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By the Way: From dishwasher to top chef


The new executive chef at Cascade the Restaurant at Durham Springs recalls standing on a stool to reach the stovetop in his mother’s kitchen when he was a little boy. That was in Pittstown, N.J.

“I’ve always loved to cook,” Jon McCain said. And, in fact, the bearded, auburn-haired chef gave up a previous career to pursue that first love.

“I found I wanted a more hands-on job,” he said. And that’s what he got. His first restaurant job was as a dishwasher at The Ship Inn in Milford, N.J. – and even that didn’t stop him from following his dream.

He left both a desk job and the soapy water behind and climbed the rungs of fine cuisine to gain his experience at prestigious, prize-winning restaurants in major American cities.

The inspiration to change careers came as he was working in information technology and decided to take an amateur cooking course on weekends in the early 2000s. “That inspired me to go back to school,” Jon said.

He perfected his professional skills during a two-year course at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. The award-winning school is now called the International Culinary Center and it has trained such celebrity chefs as David Chang and Bobby Flay.

He then worked with Chef Grant Achatz at Aviary NYC and later Aviary Chicago, both cocktail lounges famous for the presentation of creative drinks and small bites.

He gained more experience and expertise at the Crossroads Restaurant at the Carolinas in Chapel Hill, N.C., and then returned to Manhattan and the Wright Restaurant at the Guggenheim and the prize-winning one-syllable restaurants, Town, Cru and Vong.

He is now bringing the experience he gained there to Cascade. He follows Francesco Martorella, who basically was hired to open Cascade for owners Dan Fehlig and Ian Humphreys.

Francesco, as owner/chef, had opened two celebrated restaurants, Ciboulette and Bliss, in Philadelphia. He had the know-how to iron out the practical details and set the tone for the new dining spot and culinary event center in Durham Township, and then handed the reins over to Jon.

Jon, now trained and experienced as a professional, and far removed from the hot water and suds, has added some marvelous dishes to the new restaurants and event center that literally have sprung from the foundation of the old Cascade Lodge, a rural get-away that as long ago as the 1930s and 1940s drew diners from Philadelphia, New York, the Lehigh Valley and beyond.

Ready once again to leave the chaos of the city, Jon is happily installed at Cascade, where he is training two young cooks to become sous chefs. “I saw they have talent and I’m bringing them along,” he said, “so I’ve come full circle – and I’ve come home in a way.”

He likes the 25-minute commute from Pittstown and after years of facing the general noise and chaos bombarding city-dwellers, he is pleased to be sharing the rural peace and beauty offered by his new position.

As executive chef, Jon oversees all the food preparation for Cascade Restaurant and Durham Springs Culinary Event Center and the just-opened Cascade Café, a less formal indoor/outdoor café offering lighter fare.

The café, which has a slightly lower price point than the elegant restaurant, made its debut June 12 and is already a popular dining spot. The café is divided into indoor and outdoor seating, serving about 50 diners in each, and overlooks the ponds of cascading spring waters and the sprawling green lawns of the property.

Like its more formal sister, it is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner and on Sunday for brunch. Jon said he believes Cascade Café will eventually serve luncheon as well.