After 20 years at the helm of The White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, executive chef Jonathan Cartwright is leaving for Vancouver. On Friday sous chef Derek Bissonnette takes the top spot at the five-star, Relais and Chateaux property. “We cook with the same soul,” said Bissonnette, adding “we don’t allow ego to get in the way of customer satisfaction.”
Bissonnette, 35, has worked by Cartwright’s side for a decade. He started at the acclaimed restaurant in 1999 and returned in 2009, after “traveling the world.”
Cartwright, who put the upscale inn (and by extension Maine) on the dining map when he was hired in 1994, will become a consultant with Wedgewood Hotel and Spa in British Columbia. Assistant Innkeeper Albert Black confirmed the news Wednesday. Pastry chef Gabriel Cote — said to be killin’ it in the dessert dept. — is now sous chef.
“It’s a great opportunity, but they are huge shoes to fill,” said Bissonnette. “Though Jon Cartwright may not be here, he will always be in our heart and soul.”
The changing of the chefs, marks more than a few shifts this season at the white-gloved restaurant, where many a president and celeb has dined under the rafters in the century’s old barn. A new bistro, located in an attached barn off the main dining room, will serve thin-crust pizza (topped with lobster for $29) and sirloin burgers to appease diners looking for a more casual experience.
The dining room, where prix fixe meals are $109, chef-tasting menus $165 (before wine) and synchronized service is enforced, loosens its tie this summer. The “jackets required” rule for gents has been lifted.
“We are opening our doors up for a younger generation,” said Black. “We don’t want to alienate the digital era, who like to express themselves through individual dress.”
Will Millennials in hoodies run amok at the elegant address? Text through dinner and left swipe their way through foie gras creme brûlée into the limoncello sorbet intermezzo?
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” reassures Bissonnette. “We are going to grease the wheels and grease the cogs, keep them going in the same direction.”
So you can still bring dad in for a gimlet at the piano bar and feast on pan-roasted duck with fig tarte tatin and bacon sautéed spinach in your uptown duds. But change is in the air at the storied spot.
Said the new chef, “it’s my turn to pick up the torch and take over and transpose the future.”