by Bonnie North

What's the longest route from Glen Burnie to Mount Vernon, and how long will it take for a bright young gal to get there? Well, in Jesse Sandlin's case it took about a decade, and she traveled three quarters of the way around the globe, with stops in California and Australia, and back the way she'd come.

In high school Jesse worked a bit frying foot longs at that famous Glen Burnie institution, Ann's DARI Crème, but a culinary career wasn't really on her radar screen back then. It wasn't until she'd moved out to Sacramento and a friend called upon her to help out in a kitchen where he worked, that she got a sense of the creative and fun aspects of working in a fine dining kitchen.

"I always did enjoy cooking. I used to get a kick out of making dinners for my parents to enjoy when they got home from work-I made a lot of roast chickens!" she laughs.

In California she wound up working in several restaurants owned by the trendy Paragary Group and under the tutelage of Chef Andrew Tescher. "It was Andy who really encouraged me to learn, to experiment. He gave me the freedom to become creative in the kitchen. And I got into the whole ‘Slow Food' approach to cooking-using fresh local ingredients, which was becoming very big in California then."

A winter spent enjoying Australia's beach scene at the Blue Duck Cafe, beautifully situated right on the Indian Ocean, though fun, left her rather homesick. When she read an article in Gourmet Magazine about Cindy Wolf's new Charleston restaurant opening in Baltimore, she considered coming home. "When I got back to California I contacted her and arranged an interview." That one interview went so well that soon enough she was back in Baltimore and working for the Charleston Group at Petit Louis in Roland Park. "I remember Chef Wolf saying that I reminded her a lot of herself when she was my age. I was so very honored by that!"

Eventually she became the Sous Chef at Pazo. "It was working with Tony Foreman at Pazo that I came to appreciate the local foods of this area. We'd go every Sunday to the Farmers' Market and I saw that there's just an abundance of great stuff here!"

After 2 years at Pazo, Jesse was offered the opportunity to partner with Jerry Pellegrino, owner of Corks in Federal Hill, and take over the restaurant at Abacrombie. "I was happy at Pazo, but when Jerry called me with this idea: ‘How would you like to run your own kitchen?' How do you say ‘No' to that? This was something I felt I just had to do-to run my own kitchen-no matter how scary, I had to do it!"

Now she handles a 70-seat restaurant with a Sous Chef and a Pastry Chef as assistants, and admits that "Every day is a new challenge, I'm responsible for everything-but it's great!"

With the theaters nearby, the elegant dining room is always filled on show nights. Jesse's Sunday Brunch is also enormously popular, at least partly because no matter how late that Saturday night went on, she never fails to get down to the Sunday Farmers' Market in the morning. "To make a beautiful omelet with fresh spinach-maybe picked just last night in the soft spring rain-the taste is so different. It's worth it...and people appreciate it too."


58 W. Biddle Street
in Mount Vernon


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