Executive Chef Jason Avery
“It consumes my spare time, my reading, even my vacations,” observes Jason Avery, the chef/partner of New York City’s The Quarter. The “it” being food. However, Avery has not been a life-long love affair with what is now his self-proclaimed. Until his teens he had envisioned becoming an artist. “I was always drawing and painting, taking classes,” recalls the Croton-on-Hudson, NY native. “Of course I’m still painting every day, but now the pictures are on plates.”
Indeed, he was attracted to his profession by the artistic nature of cooking, which Avery discovered while working in a North Carolina restaurant after graduating from high school. He was hired as a dishwasher, but recognized the opportunity presented by an understaffed kitchen and grabbed it, first helping with prep and then moving on to making simple sauces. Within months Avery was running the kitchen. Moreover, he was hooked on the attendant creativity, excitement, pressure and teamwork, all of which motivate him to this day.
For the next two years, Avery pursued a journeyman’s culinary education, acquiring skills, working various stations in restaurant and country club kitchens. In 1989, he enrolled in Johnson & Wales to take his career to the next level with the express goal of getting a job in New York City. Upon his 1991 graduation, Avery was recruited as a sous chef by the Righa Royal Hotel (now The London) in midtown Manhattan.
“If I had any doubts about wanting to be a chef in New York, they were dispelled a day or two after I started at the hotel. I was working a buffet at a reception and Kiss walked in – I was a huge Kiss fan. I thought this is fantastic, I’m cooking for Gene Simmons!” He went on to further enlarge his gustatory repertoire under David Burke at the Park Avenue Café. Two-and-a-half-years as chef de cuisine at the Intercontinental Hotel followed, which sent him to the chain’s famed Carlton restaurant in Cannes, France for six months.
Then he moved on to become the opening executive sous chef for The Regent Wall Street and chef de cuisine of the hotel’s highly touted 55 Wall. There, Avery gained notoriety for his innovative use of locally grown produce and clever conceived dishes, a precursor to his locally influenced American cuisine at The Quarter with a menu that occasionally winks at diners with the likes of Foie Gras Fig Newtons and Taylor Bay Scallops wrapped with tuna, pickled shiitake, cucumber, wasabi, mustard oil.
Such work brought Avery to the attention to the owner of an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant with Turkish orientation slated for midtown. When approached to join the opening team, Avery was intrigued. “One of the things I love about my profession is the never ending learning process and certainly partnering with a Turkish chef to run an Eastern Mediterranean kitchen was going to be just that,” recalls Avery. After an extended trip to Turkey, traveling throughout the country, haunting professional, as well as home, kitchens to absorb the techniques and traditions of its diverse regional cookery, Avery was up to the challenge. Pera opened in November 2006 to enthusiastic reviews and quickly became an unqualified success, spawning a branded line of Mediterranean meat products and a food truck, both under Avery’s direction.
By 2011 Avery was anxious to pursue a venture of his own and left Pera to explore options. While doing so, he took on some consulting assignments – including opening the highly regarded Cantina by Cascabel – before be asked by a fellow Pera alumnus, Hakan Aktas, if he’d be interested in partnering in a restaurant project. Having always been impressed by Aktas’ front-of-house acumen and wine expertise, Avery jumped onboard and along with two other, partners – eventually inspiring The Quarter as their restaurant’s name – embarked on the looking-for-the-right-space experience. They found it at the corner of Hudson and W. 10th in the Big Apple’s West Village, the intimate unpretentious well-located space they were seeking.
The Quarter opened in October 2012 as a “gastro wine bar,” with a menu that, while rooted in contemporary American food, reflects Avery’s global culinary interests with French, Asian, Turkish and German accents, the latter a nod to his wife’s German heritage.
When not manning his kitchen at The Quarter, Avery is navigating new parenthood territory, courtesy of his baby daughter.