Culinary Academy graduate takes top chef spot at Oberlin hotel

By Tina Salyer - For Civitas Media

Courtesy photo Jim Barnhart, a 2004 graduate of the Lorain County JVS Culinary Academy, is the new executive chef at The Hotel at Oberlin.

Success in the culinary world is all about changing and adapting to new trends.

“We’re focused on preparing food in the 21st century,” said Jim Barnhart, a 2004 graduate of the JVS Culinary Academy and new executive chef at The Hotel at Oberlin on Tappan Square.

Barnhart, of Carlisle Township, has had the opportunity to return to his alma mater and work with aspiring chefs in the newly remodeled JVS Buckeye Room Restaurant in his role as substitute instructor. The restaurant is operated by senior culinary arts students.

“It’s all about local sourcing, farm-to-fork,” Barnhart said. “It’s important for the environment, being less wasteful, moving toward organics and away from pesticides.”

But the fundamentals and curriculum remain the same, said Barnhart, who lauded JVS chefs and mentors Tim Michitsch, Kristian Smith, and Chris Moore.

“Chef Smith drove home the fundamentals, Chef Michitsch took the fundamentals to the next level, and Chef Moore, the executive pastry chef, brought things full circle, revealing how pastries and breads fit into the culinary experience,” he said.

The Hotel at Oberlin is set to open soon with 70 guest rooms and suites and 6,500 square feet of conference and event space.

The hotel restaurant and bar, yet to be named, will feature locally sourced food, said Barnhart.

“This is an awesome opportunity for me,” said Barnhart, who is excited about taking the food scene in Lorain County to the next level.

He will oversee a staff of about 20. His menu will feature modern cuisine, along with some special offerings for inquisitive diners. “A couple of fun and crazy things, for sure, but I don’t want to scare off anybody,” laughed Barnhart.

Barnhart also looks forward to hiring the best staff possible. He praised the JVS Culinary Academy and its partnership with Lorain County Community College’s Culinary and Convergent Digital Arts facility for preparing a talent pool of skilled culinary professionals.

“We have two of the best culinary school programs in Lorain County, unmatched here or around the country where you can go right into the workforce — like I did — after graduation or continue your education and earn a degree in the culinary arts or hospitality industry,” he said.

Barnhart met Cleveland’s Ritz Carlton chefs Paul Carter and Shawn Brozic while he was working in the Buckeye Room as a senior culinary student. The relationships blossomed and Carter hired Barnhart as a prep/pantry cook at Ritz Carlton after graduation. Barnhart was promoted to chef de partie (overseer of cooks) and worked at Ritz Carlton for four years.

He followed Brozic to Cleveland’s Wyndham Hotel as Brozic’s executive sous chef and spent 20 days in Spain learning the art of Spanish cuisine.

“It was an intensive course,” he said. “I studied Modern Gastronomy at Escuela Internacional de Cocina (International School of the Kitchen) and learned about modern tapas and classic Spanish ingredients used to create modern cuisine.”

Barnhart furthered his career as executive chef at The Unicorn Restaurant in Grafton in 2014 before being hired as executive chef at The Hotel at Oberlin at Tappan Square.

“I was looking to take the next step, to broaden my horizons and was interested in getting back into hotels,” he said. “I’m excited about the future.”

Barnhart said that his love of food began as a teenager, cooking with family.

“I hunted and fished with my dad, Gene, who believed in eating what we harvested,” Barnhart said. “I learned to cook things simply with salt and pepper on the grill. I learned about baking pies from my mom, LeAnn, a really good cook, whose influences were handed down from generation to generation. That was my inspiration.”

Barnhart said his father also taught him the importance of work by assisting the farmer whose land they hunted.

“I bailed hay, fed the animals,” he said. “I felt obligated to give back to the farmer. My dad helped me to understand his obligation to family and the work ethic necessary to be successful.”

That is why Barnhart enjoys his roles as executive chef at The Hotel at Oberlin and substitute teacher at the JVS Culinary Academy.

“My goal is to constantly grow the people around me, bring new ideas to the table and inspire the next generation of culinarians,” Barnhart said. “It’s more than a career. It’s a life choice, not a daily job you work and leave for home. It’s your lifestyle. Without the JVS, my life probably wouldn’t be as easy or fun, that’s for sure. I know no other life.”

This article was prepared by staff at the Lorain County JVS for the News-Tribune.

Courtesy photo Jim Barnhart, a 2004 graduate of the Lorain County JVS Culinary Academy, is the new executive chef at The Hotel at Oberlin.

Courtesy photo Jim Barnhart, a 2004 graduate of the Lorain County JVS Culinary Academy, is the new executive chef at The Hotel at Oberlin.

By Tina Salyer

For Civitas Media