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New Addition to the deadhorse hill Team Presents a Welcome Challenge

deadhorse hill's culinary team: Chef de cuisine Robin Clark, Executive Chef Jared Forman, Nathan Sanden, and new addition, Erin Hockey

Another familiar face just joined deadhorse hill’s impressive culinary team and Executive Chef Jared Forman feels certain that his job is about to get more difficult. “Taking people on never makes our lives easier, it advances our agenda for better food and a better menu,” Forman explains.

The team, including latest addition Erin Hockey, has gathered around a long table in the back of the restaurant for a ritual pre-service meeting. They sit beneath the watchful eyes of an old sea captain who hangs over Forman’s right shoulder. A collective gaze falls on Hockey, the expectation being that with a new meat manager on board, deadhorse’s already ambitious repertoire will continue to grow.

Hockey grew up hunting and fishing in her hometown of Quincy. “My uncle owned a big game and taxidermy shop, so I broke down my first deer pretty early in life,” she recalls. After accepting a full ride to the New England Culinary Institute, she went on to intern at The Butcher Shop, working for the famed restaurateur, Barbara Lynch. Hockey’s arrival in Worcester coincided with the opening of Kummerspeck on Water Street, an endeavor to which she played an integral role.

For deadhorse hill, welcoming Hockey means the start of a true charcuterie program and another step toward achieving full potential as a seasonal American restaurant. For Hockey, the move opens up a host of spotlight opportunities as an accomplished female butcher. Her debut with the deadhorse hill team took place at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston at the end of October, a star-studded affair.

“I’m not actually good at anything,” Forman jokes from his seat at the head of the table.
“At least you’re funny,” his chef de cuisine Robin Clark fires back before adding, “Jared can see the talent behind him. He empowers us all to let our passions and skillsets shine.”

Chef Clark is living proof. Described by owners as “the heartbeat” of the kitchen, she offers the organized mind of a pastry chef along with a savory intuition. Early experience at Mill’s Tavern, a Providence institution, taught Clark to play with fire, make pasta by hand, and prepare classic dishes at volume. From there, she gained fine dining experience at T.W.Food in Cambridge where she mastered the intricacies of a meticulous modern French bistro. At deadhorse, Clark is free to marry both of those experiences, bringing her aptitude for the elaborate to an exceedingly busy kitchen. She favors recipes that involve a lot of patshke like the tiny tortellinis she has been fussing with all morning, as only a perfectionist could.

Conversely, Clark’s daytime counterpart, a.m. sous chef Nathan Sanden, is an idea-man. Sanden proved his dedication when he drove to Worcester in the throes of an April snowstorm for his interview at deadhorse hill. He feels he has landed a sort of dream job in that he spends his days exploring the distinct techniques of other cultures. Sanden is a dedicated study of Forman, who has outright lied in his assertion that he is “not actually good at anything.” Forman has gleaned his own wisdom from the greats at Per Se, momofuku noodle bar, Marea, and Gramercy Tavern before playing an evident role in the success of Strip T’s and Ribelle.

At the end of the meeting, Hockey, Clark, and Sanden dart off to the kitchen while Forman moves the long table back into a corner. He tucks the chairs neatly into place in preparation for dinner service and eyes the captain over his shoulder. “Some chefs think that you’re only as good as your last dish, but the truth is, you’re only as good as the people you have working behind you.”

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From Momofuku Ssäm to Gramercy, Jared Forman Brings deadhorse hill to Worcester

Jared Forman from deadhorse hill on Main Street in Worcester, MA (Photograph by Alex Belisle)

Let’s just get one thing out of they way first: Jared Forman, chef of the spectacular deadhorse hill in Worcester, is . . . a Mets fan. Diehard. It’s the first thing he talks about when we sit down. And no, it does not soften the blow of this Boston baseball betrayal when he reminds me that Mets pitcher Ron Darling (member of the hated 1986 team and whose autographed picture sits on the wall outside of the restaurant’s kitchen) hails from Millbury.

Suffice it to say, Forman will not have Sox fans at hello. After that? Absolutely.

Locally hot smoked trout. (Photograph by Alex Belisle)
Locally hot smoked trout. (Photograph by Alex Belisle)


For one thing, Forman has a deep reverence for the history of Worcester right down to the building his restaurant occupies on Main Street. He is sourcing local ingredients from trout to beans to greens to bread. And the food he makes from those ingredients? His approach is good news for Worcester, even if most people ‘round here don’t like strawberries named Darryl.

Forman does come by the Mets thing honestly. He was born and raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn and moved to Queens, home of the Mets, as a teenager. The borough’s international intensity fueled his passion for all things food and he soon decided to pursue a culinary degree at Johnson & Wales. His externship was at one of New York City’s most acclaimed fine dining destinations: Thomas Keller’s Per Se. The résumé is just as impressive from there: Michael White’s Marea, David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm, and Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern (under Michael Anthony and Nancy Olson).

“I saw fine dining at Per Se. I saw David Chang win a James Beard Rising Star chef award [in 2007] without a Michelin star and without being too fine or too lowbrow, just doing fun shit every day that I got used to,” Forman says. “Only when I went to Gramercy did I learn all the traditional stuff like working with stocks and sauces. I went from the funky to the refined. Kinda cool because I think of a dish differently than someone with a more classical background. I learned this stuff backwards.”

After Gramercy, Forman took his backwards approach to Watertown and joined his Momofuku kitchen mate Tim Maslow in transforming Strip T’s from a tiny sandwich shop into a modern dining destination beyond Boston. They even managed to convert many of the customers who had been eating tuna melts for years and wow them with food they had never tasted before. Thus, when Forman and his business partner, Sean Woods, were ready to open their own place, they did not hesitate to look even further out to Worcester, where Woods lived, for a larger customer base. The success of Strip T’s in blue-collar Watertown gave them reason to be optimistic.

Jared Forman in the kitchen of deadhorse hill on Main Street in Worcester, MA (Photograph by Alex Belisle)
Jared Forman in the kitchen of deadhorse hill on Main Street in Worcester, MA (Photograph by Alex Belisle)

“There are hungry people out here who don’t want to and don’t have to commute into Boston for a great meal,” says Forman.

But where to put down their stake? They knew that they didn’t want to follow the crowds. They wanted to be about the future in an area deeply tied to the city’s past, not just the present. “When I said we were going to open in Worcester people said, ‘Shrewsbury Street?’ No, I wanted to be part of a new wave. Not what Worcester was or is but both of them together for the future. I love where are we going and where we were in the golden age.

Some might see Main Street as a disadvantage or a sign of a city past its prime. Not Forman and Woods. “If you look down Main Street from where we are, I feel like I am on one beautiful street in New York. Nothing has changed and anything is possible,” Woods says. “We are tied to the past and then looking past what can be. Look at this building. We ripped down the real horsehair plaster walls to expose the original brick for the first time since it was built. The tin ceiling is 161 years old and gorgeous. This used to be the Bay State Hotel. It was world class. It was the place to be. It was legit. It can be again.”

Forman and Woods built out their vision of old and new themselves, doing much of the work on their own and aspiring to create something casual that showcased their personalities as well as the food and beverages that they want to eat and drink. This means right down to the dishes, which might be a vintage plate from a thrift shop next to a handmade wood bowl from the Berkshires.

“We wanted to create a place we wanted to be in,” says Forman. “That means comfortable and being welcome. We call it ‘modern hospitality.’ That’s something I learned at Gramercy Tavern. They make you feel welcome as soon as you walk in the door. They elevate it so that their service is so proper but at the same time super casual as well. And they do it better than anyone else. That’s why Gramercy is Danny Meyer’s crown jewel.”

Matching Meyer – reigning king of New York City restaurant hospitality – is a tall order but one Forman is dead serious about working hard to achieve: “Across the board in my career, I went into everything thinking I don’t know shit. Sean didn’t think we knew anything about opening a restaurant, because worked in restaurants before. And it’s not about us. I learned at Gramercy that everything that you do on a plate you should think about the customer experience with that plate. I see chefs adding stuff and doing fancy things. But if you can’t eat it without everything on the plate making complete sense then you fail in a hospitality sense. So every time I try and create something, I think about that.”

They also thought about all of that and more when they chose the name, deadhorse hill, which is unexpected and exactly what Forman and Woods wanted. They didn’t want to be a Something “Restaurant” or “Tavern.”

“We wanted to identify ourselves as this is who we are and there is no place like us,” says Forman. So the name reflects their desire to honor history and transform it for the customer. There is also a direct connection to the space: The actual Deadhorse Hill is one of the seven hills of Worcester, named for its ability to kill horses that followed its climb towards Leicester. From 1905 to 1911, it was also the site of a world-class auto race. The Bay State Hotel was the headquarters for the club that ran the race.

And thankfully and delightfully, Forman’s food matches the grand aspirations of the past, the current space, and his culinary experience, but also reflects the broad range of what he and his staff like. So you’ll find Southern Fried Chicken Thighs, Memphis Ribs, and Spaghetti & Meatballs as well as Poached Scottish Salmon served with an Herb Curry and Chanterelles and an Aged Duck Breast with Mustard Spaetzle and Creme Fraiche.

“Everything on the menu is me,” Forman says. “I want to have some approachable things so that people who walk in off the street and are not expecting a restaurant like this are able to eat something.”

Forman also believes that deadhorse hill has the potential to be a high caliber restaurant, but he knows he is catering to an audience with different needs and expectations: “I don’t want to price people out. I don’t want to be so different that customers can’t relate to us. But someone who wants something more adventurous? I want to provide for them too. We have things that are lowbrow, highbrow, and something that will satisfy everyone, but everything has a reason and as much passion behind it as anything else.”

Which means that fried chicken has as much thought behind it as the duck breast. Or consider the Grilled Skirt Steak served with mole (an unsweetened Mexican chocolate sauce) and seared avocado. Most people when they order a strip are not thinking chocolate. Few people when eating avocado even think to sear it. Forman wants you to know both are delicious: “If someone says, ‘I’m a meat and potatoes guy. I just want a steak.’ It’s an awesome option for them and someone who wants to be adventurous. Everyone has had fried sweet potato wedges, but have you had those wedges cooked out in chicken and duck fat and covered in house smoked pastrami and housemade XO sauce? I know that everyone in Worcester’s old guard likes salmon. So we bring in responsibly raised salmon, sous vide it to order, and put an herb curry on it. Now we are appealing to someone who just wants salmon and someone who wants an interesting flavor profile.”

For fun, Forman also deep-fries the salmon head, which sells out every time it’s on the menu. He’s also playing with the menu so don’t expect to find many mainstays. For example, that salmon is evolving into a dish made from local trout hot smoked to order served with the same herbed curry and chanterelles and then triticale berries and green garlic – all local.

“What’s next is tomorrow’s menu,” Forman says. “I want people to walk in and say I had this last time and I was blown away and I can’t wait for the next thing. I want to be there for these people.”

Those people are key. After all, the idea of a refined new restaurant on Main Street – the first of any note since Armsby Abbey opened in 2008 – might have been unpredictable. But the community on Main Street and beyond, including from Armsby and its customers, has been overwhelming supportive: “The Armsby guys and the people at Volturno and BirchTree Bread became our friends. We push each other to be better.”

Forman then smiles and says everything has been way better than they expected: “We get people in here that are excited. We do get people who don’t know what to expect. But we turn those people into regulars. I expected it would take more time but people were really waiting for this.”

Aged Duck Breast with Mustard Spaetzle and Creme Fraiche (Photograph by Alex Belisle)
Aged Duck Breast with Mustard Spaetzle and Creme Fraiche (Photograph by Alex Belisle)