Combats sexism with sarcasm
Jennifer Carroll, who grew up in the Somerton section of Northeast Philadelphia but attended Mount St. Joseph High School in Flourtown from 1989 to 1993 along with her sisters (one of whom, Jessica, also graduated from Chestnut Hill College in 1995), is small, thin, pretty and could pass for a college sophomore, although she insists she is 33. But despite her diminutive, seemingly delicate stature, Jennifer is a powerhouse in the highly competitive, macho local restaurant industry.
The deceptively demure and soft-spoken Ms. Carroll, who hardly looks like a drill sergeant, is the chef in charge of running 10 Arts, the recently opened, posh restaurant in the palatial lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. This is a job that in the not-too-distant past would have always gone to a man, probably one from western Europe. Professional kitchens have long been a bastion of sexist, intimidating behavior towards women.
“There’s certainly still some sexism you face in this job,” said Jennifer, who appears to weigh not much more than 100 pounds, “but I’m strong, and I stand up for myself. I’m sarcastic. Some women (in this business) do let the boys push them around, but I don’t. Sexism doesn’t bother me; I can deal with it. I have to work harder and faster to get the job done. If there is something heavy to lift or some other (physically demanding) task, I always say I’ll do it.”
The lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel (right across the street from City Hall), where the new 10 Arts restaurant is situated, is extraordinarily impressive to all but the most jaded observer. (The name of the new restaurant comes from the hotel’s address, which is 10 Avenue of the Arts.) Its 16 huge marble columns, made of white-gray marble from the same Tuscan quarries that were used by Michelangelo and other Renaissance sculptors, surround a rotunda which support a 100-foot wide dome that was designed to look like the Pantheon in Rome. Having dinner in this setting, you can’t help but feel you deserve to be pampered at least as much as a U.S. Senator.
The hotel recently undertook a multi-million dollar renovation of the majestic, historic rotunda and the adjoining Pantheon area, which was kept under wraps until the project’s completion, and includes a new bar and lounge in addition to 10 Arts.
“I realize I am very lucky to work here,” said Jennifer, whose ultimate goal (like that of almost every other young chef) is to open her own restaurant. “In fact, it’s unbelievable. I know that I will never work in a place like this again in my lifetime.”
Although Jennifer grew up in Northeast Philly, her parents insisted that she and her sisters, Jessica and Sunny, attend Mount St. Joseph because “they said that education was very, very important and that Mount St. Joseph had a great reputation.” (Today Jessica is a physician’s assistant, and Sunny is an office manager at the Academy House in center city.) Jennifer earned top grades at every school she attended, but when she was at “the Mount” in Flourtown, no one could have predicted she would wind up running a restaurant in the Ritz Carlton. “My dad was a steak-and-potatoes guy,” she said. “My mom took cooking classes and wanted to be more adventurous, but my dad would have none of it, so our meals were pretty basic — protein, starch and Del Monte canned vegetables.”
In addition to her scholastic excellence, Jennifer played on the soccer and lacrosse teams at Mount St. Joseph. “My sisters swam,” said Jen, “and we all played piano and tap-danced and did other activities. Our mom (Joan, now 61), was awesome. She was at every one of our sporting events, and she was also a softball coach and soccer coach. She is very proud of me now, and she still calls me every day, and she visits us all a lot.”
Jennifer originally planned to go to law school, but after one year at Catholic University and two years at St. Joseph’s University, she realized that her destiny would not be found in law libraries or courtrooms. She informed her mom that she would be dropping out of St. Joe’s and enrolling in the Restaurant School of Philadelphia. “She said, ‘You’re crazy, but you have to follow your heart.’”
“I think that (being a chef) is either in you, or it’s not,” said Jennifer. “I always loved cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, even when I was a kid, and I worked in a restaurant in Ocean City as a teenager. I always felt I had to be different from anybody else I knew, and I guess now I am.”
After graduating from the Restaurant School, Carroll became the first female sous chef at Sonoma in Manayunk. She subsequently worked in other restaurants in Philadelphia and San Francisco before landing at New York City’s ultra-chic Le Bernardin. “Everyone starts at the bottom at Le Bernardin,” said Jen, “no matter how much experience you may have.”
Le Bernardin, run by famed French chef Eric Ripert, is the only restaurant ever to earn the New York Times’ highest rating of four stars 10 years in a row. When the Ritz Carlton in Philly asked Ripert to open a restaurant in their spectacular lobby this year, he selected Jennifer Carroll to run it.
“She has been so good and so energetic,” said Michael Walsh, the hotel’s general manager. “If we ever need Eric, he’ll come right down from New York, but thanks to the way Jennifer is running the kitchen, we’re getting a great reputation as one of the best restaurants in the city.”
Needless to say, 10 Arts does not have fast food prices, but at Happy Hour you can get a cocktail for $10, which is par for the course these days, and something from the bar menu that will not break the bank. I would highly recommend the warm soft pretzels ($8), an amazing creation from Jennifer that is served with a sublime creamy cheddar sauce, jalapeno jam and Dijon mustard; or tuna carpaccio ($15), a Le Bernardin creation that covers the entire plate. It is olive-oil silky, zephr-light and redolent of smoked salmon, with chives, shallots and lemon. And a great buy from the dinner menu is the brook trout entree with a heavenly hazelnut brown butter sauce ($26). Pastry chef Monica Glass, a Main Liner, makes a dark chocolate, caramel and peanut tart with ice cream that is to live for. (All desserts are $10.) As with virtually every other upper tier restaurant these days, wine prices are marked up a few hundred percent. Despite its elevated price ($15 a glass), I loved the rich fruitiness and long after-taste of the Raymond Chardonnay Reserve, which was superior to other Raymond Winery products I’ve tasted.
Unlike even most upscale restaurants in center city, background music at 10 Arts is very soft, and tables are spaced far enough apart so that you cannot hear any of the nearby conversations. And we found a parking lot between Walnut and Locust and 16th and 17th Streets for just $9.
For more information or reservations, call 215-523-8000 or visit www.10arts.com.