Chef profile: Old South Mountain Inn chef says restaurant ownership isn't for everybody
Chad Dorsey is executive chef and co-owner of Old South Mountain Inn. Dorsey has worked at the restaurant for more than 20 years, and says every night is a new experience for him. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer)
Chad Dorsey is executive chef and co-owner of Old South Mountain Inn at the top of South Mountain east of Boonsboro. He has worked here almost all his adult life, and maintained the reputation of top-quality American-style dishes passed to him by his predecessor.
Dorsey, 40, said tradition is important at the inn. Customers favor the classic dishes of 20th-century American fine dining.
"If people were here 20 years ago, they can come back and it's the same New Yorker (steak), or it's the same beef Wellington, or it's the same filet (mignon), and those are all my staple items," he said.
Dorsey took time last week to chat with The Herald-Mail in his kitchen before the dinner rush.
How long have you worked here?
I've been here 21 years. I started here as a bus kid back in 1990, and was working out front for a couple months. All my buddies worked back in the kitchen. So I came back to the kitchen. Started as a dishwasher. Went to prep cook. From prep cook to line cook, line cook to sous chef, sous chef to (executive) chef to owner. So I've done all the gamut.
I have no culinary degree or anything. People ask me (what school I attended), I say "I went to the school of hard knocks."
What gave you the idea you wanted to be a chef?
I really didn't want to be a chef. But you could give me the crappiest job, whether it was pulling weeds, whatever, I always gave 110 percent. The chef that was here, Larry Dawson, took a liking to me. Larry was formally trained at (Culinary Institute of America)-Hyde Park. The guy knew his stuff. He just wasn't a people person. He was one of those chefs people were like, "Ain't no way I'm working for that guy."
But he showed me the basics of cooking — what a mirepoix is, how to cut this, what this dice is. And he was showing me his recipes that he had really instilled in the restaurant, and had really built up a good reputation. He was not giving them to anybody else. My buddies were like, "I don't know why he's taking a liking to you." I knew, because Larry knew I was going to give that 110 percent. I just took it from there.
Most chefs have a degree.
Most guys who went to culinary school (who) I've had work for me did not last long, at all. They can't distinguish between school and the real world. In school, you've got an hour to get it done. Here, you gotta get it done now.
How would you describe the Old South Mountain Inn's food?
It's considered American haute cuisine.
You wouldn't have sushi here, because it's not American haute cuisine.
I've tried it, and the clientele ... If I do sushi here, I'll call it carpaccio or ceviche. You gotta change it up a little bit. My clientele is coming from Frederick (Md.) and Rockville (Md.) and Baltimore and (Washington,) D.C. They want something different than they can get there.
So people come from far away?
There was a couple on Sunday. They're from Annapolis. She basically Googled "inns." She just happened to find us, and she raved to me for 20 minutes down at the bar. Said ours was the best filet she's ever had. I always love hearing that.