Meet the Chef: Jeff Silver of The Lobby

Chefs can be a particular lot, with specific preferences and particular methods to getting their culinary creations just so. But the relatively new chef at The Lobby in Middlebury is quite the opposite.
“There’s no ego in my food,” chef Jeff Silver said in an interview last week. “What matters is that customers enjoy it and want to come back for more. The sustainability of the restaurant is the most important thing.”
Silver joined the team at The Lobby (part of the restaurant group that includes Park Squeeze and Black Sheep Bistro in Vergennes, as well as The Bearded Frog in Shelburne) this past November. Since then he has worked closely with the group’s executive chef, Andrea Cousineau, to create a new menu that launched just last month.
“We had a really good time creating and launching the new menu,” Silver said. But it didn’t happen right away. “I think it is more important to come into a new kitchen and get comfortable working as a team than to change the menu right away,” he explained, giving kudos to his team of four in The Lobby’s kitchen. “Plus cooking someone else’s menu is a great way to learn new things.”
See … no ego.
But Silver certainly has brought his own touch to the downtown Middlebury eatery.
“The new menu has Italian influences with Mediterranean flavors, but in more of a pub direction,” Silver said, adding that he especially likes hand-foods — you know plates you can share that don’t require a knife and fork.
Some of the new dishes on the menu include three mini calzones (each a different flavor), a phyllo vegetable gratin over rosemary and arugula pesto, a vegetable parmesan sub and a throwback to Silver’s favorite sandwich growing up: a pulled pork sandwich that’s served like a French dip.
“I collect cookbooks and like to take old recipes and infuse them with a modern take,” said Silver, who got his start cooking with his mom, dad and aunt in Rye Brook, N.Y. “I eat simply at home, but love to come up with really good flavors.”
While still in college (earning his bachelor’s in History from the University of Hartford in Connecticut) Silver got his start as a dishwasher and salad maker at a 200-plus seat restaurant in Bloomfield, Conn.
“Becoming a chef has been an evolution for me,” said the 48-year-old who took a break from the culinary industry for eight years (1994-2002) to join his family’s real estate development company in Darien, Conn. While engaged in construction management Silver worked on several restaurant projects.
“It taught me that creating systems of efficiency to make everyone’s tasks easier is the ultimate goal of any well oiled machine,” he said. That’s true for Silver in the kitchen, too. “Eighty percent is organization and coordination, the other 20 percent is culinary creative skill.”
Silver’s cooking experience expanded in Hartford and New York City, where he had “opportunities to work under really talented, patient people,” he said. “Those were my building blocks to becoming a better cook, chef and leader.”
In the winter of 2002, Silver moved to Vermont to work at Smugglers’ Notch Resort as a snowboard instructor. He spent five seasons teaching and then became a supervisor at the mountain until 2013.
During his last year at Smuggs, Silver and a co-owner launched their own wood-fired-bagel business.
“It was called Mtn Seasons in Jeffersonville,” Silver explained. It started out like a CSA with about 50 people, then we started selling bagels and breakfast sandwiches at farmers’ markets, and then we opened our own brick-and-mortar business right near Smuggs.”
Unfortunately, the lack of snow in 2016 kept customers from the mountain and Mtn Seasons had to close its doors. “It was a great experience learning how to grow a business,” Silver said.
He “cooked-around” for a bit at The Mix in Jeffersonville, the Champlain Country Club in Swanton, and the Kitchen Table Bistro and Hatchet in Richmond before coming to Middlebury.
“I was looking for a new place to land and these guys were looking for a new person to lead,” said Silver, who now lives in North Ferrisburgh with his girlfriend Hilary Gifford. “She’s a farmer and sells her vegetables to restaurants; it’s a cool relationship.”
The couple met while working at Hatchet and hope to expand this summer. Keep an eye out for “Farmer Hil” and chef Silver — good things are sure to come.

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