The Wine Market with Jason Lear

by Bonnie North

He’s the new man at the helm.

After 2 years as Executive Sous Chef, this month Jason Lear steps up to the plate when Chef Christian deLutis moves on to pursue a new career position with the Park Manor House Hotel in Ireland.

Youthful and exuberant, Jason brings his own fresh approach to the fare at Chris Spann’s stylish and popular eatery (named one of the “Top 10 Wine Bars in the country by Airtran’s Go Magazine) in the Foundry Building, an historic location south of the harbor in Locust Point.

Jason grew up in Fallston and began working in area country clubs as a teenager. “I actually started as a lifeguard and when the off-season rolled around I joined the kitchen staff. They liked my work ethic and wanted me to stay on. It surprised me, but I fell in love with the work. I got right into sync with that aspect of ‘organized chaos.’ I really enjoy the kind of unspoken communication that takes place when the entire team is pumping hard to get the job done…the fast pace, the ever-changing challenges. And I found that cooking is such a great medium to engage all aspects of your creativity. It’s all a lot like jazz—I love it!

So he decided to get serious about a culinary career and took off for Hyde Park, New York to acquire an Associate’s Degree from the Culinary Institute of America. That led to a professional position as Sous Chef at the Tilghman Island Inn on Maryland’s eastern shore. “In the summers I did my CIA externships there and once I graduated they offered me the position.”

Jason stayed on the eastern shore for 3 years and then moved up to New England to become Sous Chef at the elegant, award-winning, Homehill Inn in Plainfield, New Hampshire. Eventually he was coaxed back to Baltimore to take on the position of Sous Chef, at Peerce’s Plantation. When Peerce’s closed in 2006, Jason came on board at The Wine Market, where, according to owner Chris Spann, “His infectious enthusiasm and flavorful cuisine helped keep the kitchen humming every day.”

Being a native son, Jason has a tremendous appreciation for the bounties and specialties of the region. “You can have two dishes and they are basically the same, but you can go local and keep everything indigenous to your region, or go out and do the same dish costing three times as much by importing your ingredients. It’s important to understand your ingredients too. Like rockfish—a rockfish from the Chesapeake is going to taste different than a rockfish from Florida. You need to be aware of that and build your dish accordingly, bringing out the subtleties of the local, native fish. You have to understand everything about it.”

At The Wine Market his goal is to augment that appreciation for rationality with emphasis on a cutting edge culinary style. Dishes like their Asparagus Soup with Crisp House-Cured Ham and Lavender Créme Fraiche, or the Saffron Poached Sea Scallops with a Romanesco Crust are presented with an avant-garde sophistication that is nonetheless solidly built upon a foundation of classical training. “I love the classic methods, but in this day and age that’s really not quite enough. The public is becoming more educated. Of course, everything, obviously comes back to the classics, but you have to give it some of your own flare,” he insists. “You could describe my style as: ‘Classic, but with a New American twist.’ For example, just last night I was experimenting with a new special…Now, I love panzanella …Love it, love it! So, I took a beautiful piece of tuna, wrapped it in pancetta, seared it off and served it over a fresh panzanella salad. Now panzanella’s been around forever. It’s your classic Tuscan bread salad. I’m sure…you know historically, culturally, it was originally a dish concocted to use leftover products. To make it your own you have to bring a new twist to it. We did that by adding  a Concord grape/balsamic emulsion and placing an olive tapenade on top.”

At The Wine Market, where over 30 wines are offered by the glass and one can purchase a full bottle from the adjoining (well stocked) wine store to bring to the table for a small corkage fee, the perfect pairing of foods and wines is always considered. In fact, this spring Jason and Chris are working on a cookbook of The Wine Market’s “recipes and the wines that inspired them.” Look for it to be available by mid-summer.


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