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Meet the Chef: Jerry Dejesus of Palmer's Crossing

Patch traces the career of a world-traveling chef who learned his trade in Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America before settling in Larchmont

You will have to look far and wide to find a chef who has cooked in more corners of the world than Mamaroneck native Jerry Dejesus, the chef at Palmer's Crossing.

His food education began early. His grandmother and father were employed as restaurant chefs; his father, also named Jerry, was the chef at King Lobster on City Island for 15 years and still cooks professionally. By the time Dejesus was 5, he could peel potatoes and dice vegetables, and by 13, he had mastered the cleaning and deveining of shrimp in ice water. While a student at Mamaroneck High School, he worked after school and during summers at the same restaurant where his dad was employed.

Dejesus joined Unique Affair Caterers in Pleasantville, began cooking for social and corporate events and advanced to top chef. His biggest challenge, he says, was the preparation of a political-party dinner for 1,400 people at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. He coordinated three kitchens at different locations manned by 32 chefs. "Fortunately there were a lot of speeches between courses that helped us get ready for the next serving," he recalls.

Dejesus knew that getting a culinary school education was fundamental to career advancement. So after four productive years in the catering business, he began researching culinary schools and enrolled in 1995 at the William Angliss Institute, a large 70-year-old learning institution in Melbourne, Australia. It was a tough grind. He attended classes from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and worked six days a week at a restaurant named La Porchetta from 4 p.m. to midnight. Offered a position at the school at graduation, he declined; he was in his mid-twenties and more interested in embarking on a cooking career than joining a hospitality college staff of several hundred instructors.

He sought out three-month assignments (mostly non-paying apprenticeships) in different countries and trained in Thailand, Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. Eventually he headed for European touristy destinations, including the Canary Islands. Finally he journeyed to South America where he learned to cook Brazilian dishes.

Gaining a position at most restaurants required passing a skills test, says Dejesus. "In England, I was asked to poach eggs; in Thailand, it was to peel an onion."

On to America

He arrived back in the U.S. just as  1200 Ocean Grill, opening at Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, was looking for a sous chef with seafood experience and a diversified cooking background. Dejesus was quickly hired and helped interview candidates for the remaining  job vacancies.

For whatever was being caught in the bay or nearby Atlantic, there was no shortage of international cooking ideas in Dejesus' epicurean recipe collection. The menu changed weekly, permitting him to introduce a number of the Asian, Italian, French, Spanish and Brazilian recipes he had learned during his travels (Thai fish stew, for example).

"We bought our fish at a local dock," he says, "and served it the same evening."

But like so many other chefs, Dejesus set his sights on cooking in Manhattan and he joined the Boathouse Cafe at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park as chef de cuisine. He later moved on to work as sous chef with esteemed chef Neil Annis at Compass and as executive chef at Saju Bistro, a theater-district restaurant known for its French provençal cuisine.

Dejesus joins Palmer's Crossing

Since joining Palmer's Crossing six months ago, some of Dejesus' favorite seafood dishes have appeared as daily specials. The restaurant's menu is still Italian influenced - its motto is "American grill with Italian soul." But look for the chef to work more of his accumulated treasure of international recipes into the menu, or to offer them as daily specials in the future.  One popular special he is now cooking is sweet potato crusted sea bass.

A promising addition to the steak menu planned by Dejesus is Maytag blue cheese crusted prime 14-ounce New York sirloin steak served with truffle-oil mashed potatoes. Also coming soon is Parisian steak frites.

But it wouldn't be like Dejesus to overlook seafood. He will add three tempting dishes:  sesame crusted tuna with Asian slaw and wasabi sauce; swordfish Milanese, and his version of seafood paradise: Zuppa di Pesce -  Little Neck clams, mussels, jumbo shrimp and calamari  stewed in a zesty rich tomato and seafood consomme.

Palmer's Crossing is known for its great steaks, and its current offerings will hold over during seasonal changes in the menu, says Dejesus. Especially popular are Ale House Steak topped with Guinness stout and gorgonzola sauce, and  a 28-ounce Cajun bone-in rib eye steak (if you like your meat spicy).  All steaks, filet mignon, lamb chops and pork chops come with garlic mashed potatoes, frizzled onions and seasonal vegetables. Delectable among the salads is one called Arthur Avenue -  it includes fried eggplant, romaine lettuce, mozzarella, olives, roasted peppers, onions, sopressata and tomatoes.

Palmer's Crossing is open for lunch Monday through Saturday, noon to 4:30 p.m. It is open every night for dinner as follows: Monday through Wednesday, 5  to 10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday,  5 to 9 p.m. The bar remains open through late night. Palmer's Crossing, 1957 Palmer Ave., Larchmont, NY 10538. 914-833-3505. www.palmerscrossing.com

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