“Instead of polishing dishes,” he says, “they’re making ‘concepts.’ ”
For all his French training, for all his work in fine-dining restaurants, he remains at heart a working-class guy who grew up in Buffalo and later on a farm outside that city with ducks and calves and capons. His Polish family made its own sausage, corned beef and pastrami, not because it was trendy and they could dedicate a blog to it, but because that’s what Poles from the old country did. Stachowski’s love of cooking and flavor and French techniques comes not from a high-priced cooking school, where half of the graduates want a gig on Food Network, but from old-school, knife-scarred chefs who were more working stiffs than celebs. Stachowski never went to cooking school.
His connection to Palladin also is reflected in perhaps less obvious behaviors: Like his late mentor, Stachowski has the spark of life in him. He exudes energy and attracts it at the same time. Though his slicked-back mane, neatly trimmed facial hair and Redfordesque sideburns sport varying degrees of gray, Stachowski still has a brash exuberance: a two-fisted, tough-guy persona that’s part Joe Pesci and part Ratso Rizzo. Even his most pointed barbs come across as a kind of comedy. He also flashes moments of genuine sincerity and warmth. (Is it any wonder that the History Channel had him host the one-off show “Meat America”?)
“Restaurant people are the best,” he says, almost as an apology for all his criticism of modern gastronomy. “I don’t respect anybody else.”
The feeling seems to be mutual. Like most chefs, Stachowski has worked at many restaurants over the course of his career, among them: Jean-Louis in Washington, Le Perigord in New York, Ma Maison and Le St. Germain in Los Angeles, Pesce on P Street NW, eCiti in Tysons Corner, J. Paul’s in Georgetown and Thirsty Bernie in Arlington. If he has burned bridges along the way, many of them apparently have been repaired. His peers and former employers show nothing but respect for Stachowski.
Take Paul J. Cohn, the founder of J. Paul’s. Before he moved into the restaurant business, Cohn worked in the pop music field, managing the singing duo Peaches and Herb. He likes to compare the people who populate the two industries. “For me, chefs and musicians are the same. They just play different instruments,” Cohn says. “Jamie is one of those true free spirits. . . . He’s very passionate about what he does. He’s a character.”