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Local man cooks up a career

January 05, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer

Jon Reecher's idea of making dinner isn't punching holes in the plastic wrap of a store-bought frozen dinner and popping it in the microwave.

It's more likely Reecher, a recent honors graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris and London will spend hours in the kitchen creating a gastronomic delight from appetizer to dessert.

"When I cook gourmet, it takes all day," said Reecher, 27, of Hagerstown.

Soon he'll be putting his talents to use for a more critical audience than his wife, Christine, and immediate family and friends. Reecher just accepted an offer to be a chef at the renowned Greenbriar restaurant in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va., starting the first week of April.

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In the meantime, he'll be working as an instructor at the International Culinary College in Baltimore teaching basic kitchen skills while earning continuing education credit.

"I would cook for free. Of course, my family loves it when I decide to cook," he said.

Then he lists mouth-watering recipes like a layer cake that contains 21 pounds of chocolate, his specialty white chocolate cheesecake, and beef Wellington.

But eating like kings hasn't always been the case at the Reecher residence. Though the Smithsburg native fondly remembers helping his grandmother in the kitchen while he was growing up, Reecher tried a number of different occupations, from delivering soft drinks to selling cars, before he realized cooking was his calling.

"It's a great profession. I really love it," he said.

It was when he was flipping hamburgers on a grill that he decided to apply to the International Culinary College in Baltimore.

After two semesters, he enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu where he learned gourmet cooking in an intensive eight-week course. It included four weeks in London, four weeks in Paris, and a two-week internship at the Connaught Hotel in London, one of the top ten rated restaurants in the world.

"It was tough but it was an excellent experience. They really provided a learning environment," Reecher said, adding that the best part of it was, "whatever we fixed we ate."

He said he excelled at the 100-year-old culinary school that has a reputation for being hard to stay in. It wasn't unusual for classes to run 14 hours a day. Students had to produce gourmet dishes under the watchful eyes of master chefs.

Reecher said he remembers using 130 ingredients to make a meal in one of his classes. Grades were based on taste, organization and presentation on a scale of one to 10.

In the final exam, he scored highest in his class on the written test.

He received second place on the practical exam, in which he had to make a French country vegetable soup and roasted chicken with French gravy in three hours. His work earned him "mention bien," or with honors, status at graduation, and an offer to work at the Connaught Hotel. But he turned it down.

"I just couldn't be that far away," he said.

Eventually, Reecher said, he'd like to open a country inn or bed and breakfast. He also plans to write a cookbook one day, letting the public in on the recipes he now has stored in his head. He said he may even teach some day.

"You can't be a chef forever. Eventually you get too old to take all that heat in the kitchen," he said.

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