Jason Boyer, head chef of the Port LaBelle Inn and Sprout Catering Co., has turned his former “love-hate relationship” with cooking into “a true passion for culinary arts” that allows him to employ his considerable skills and to help others. The LaBelle-based chef recently answered some questions for Florida Food & Farm.
Question: Tell us about your first kitchen experience.
Answer: My first kitchen experience was at Papa Dino’s in Lancaster, Pa. I was hired as a dishwasher but was quickly asked to help roll and stretch dough for pizza. Soon after, I became responsible for making pizzas for the buffet they had each evening. This is really where it all started for me — the passion I have for cooking.
Q: What three words best describe yourself, and why?
A: Passionate: For many years, cooking was a love-hate relationship. Many weeks, I did what I did for a paycheck, the limelight etc. Having found my purpose in life about 12 years ago, it was only then that I found a true passion for culinary arts. Today I wake up excited about cooking and ready to face the challenges each day will bring.
Committed: Whether in my marriage, as a father or as an executive chef, commitment for me is of utmost importance. My hope is that others find their cause in life and dive in wholeheartedly.
Patient: For many years, my way was the only way; that led me down a destructive path and ultimately left me empty inside. It wasn’t until I accepted life on life’s terms that I became tolerant of the troubles this life will bring, and was able to take what was meant for harm and turn it into something good.
Q: As a chef working in Florida, what do you get most excited about?
A: The continual harvest of fresh vegetables. On our farm, we are constantly growing and harvesting year-round.
Q: Tell us about some of the local farms you work with, and what they provide to you.
A: We have the opportunity to work with several local farms on different levels. Echo Farms has provided us with mentorship on how to be self-sustaining. R&L Farms is a small operation that provides our Sprout Catering Co. with microgreens. Frey Farms is a newer relationship, and they have provided us with support through our catering efforts.
Q: Who has helped you get to the place you are now?
A: I would not be where I am today without a lifelong friend, chef and mentor Jack Lucarelli. When I was 18, Jack saw something in me as a chef I had yet to discover. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of the restaurant business. Over the years, working under him, and through our continued friendship, Jack has had a huge impact on the man I have become today.
Q: How would you describe the local chef community – and how are you involved?
A: We have a small community of local chefs here in LaBelle. I am friends with each of them, and we communicate on a regular basis. I am grateful for our relationships as we try to complement each other’s work instead of competing against one another.
Q: Back to your restaurant: Why should we love the restaurant, and what are you doing there that’s truly unique to the restaurant and to you as a chef?
A: We have the opportunity to serve the freshest ingredients, grown right here at the Port LaBelle Inn, to our customers. With 47 acres of land, raised-bed gardens, and a hydroponic grow system which produces a harvest of 150 pounds of food each week, this gives us the edge on our competitors. Sprout Catering also trains men in our Justin’s Place program with culinary skills to be better equipped for the hospitality industry.
Q: Is there anything on your agenda that we should know about?
A: The Port LaBelle Inn and Sprout Catering will be opening up our dining room each week to serve dinner to the public. This will give us the opportunity to train men in our culinary program as well as to generate revenue for the mission of the St. Matthew’s House.
Q: Shout-out: Is there someone (for example, a purveyor, farmer, chef etc.) you’d like to tell our readers about?
A: I would like to thank the entire St. Matthew’s House team for their continued efforts to end hunger and homelessness. I would also like to thank Eleni Patitsas and the agriculture program for their continuing efforts.
Port LaBelle Inn, Sprout Catering Co.
1563 Oxbow Drive, LaBelle