In my quest to get back to creating original content on this blog, I realized that I get the most enjoyment writing about the people of the Philadelphia food scene. I love telling their stories or giving them a platform to tell their own stories. I’m especially fond of writing about lesser known people working in the industry who don’t get a lot of attention or never get written about in the other media outlets.
I think there are a lot of unsung heroes in restaurants and hospitality that you’ll never see in bold-face because they aren’t the local media darlings. I’m talking about sous chefs, line cooks, servers, bartenders, managers, food truck operators, dishwashers, and all of the wonderfully diverse people behind the scenes that make our great food scene what it is. Don’t get me wrong Executive Chefs work hard, but it takes a village. I’m honored to personally know many of these people and count them as my friends. They work hard and they deserve recognition too!
When I thought about who I wanted to pay tribute to and feature as the unsung heroes of the restaurant world and in the food scene in Philly, one of the first people I thought of was Jim Hasson. He is, without a doubt, one of the hardest working people I know in the local restaurant world right now. This man currently works not one, not two, but THREE jobs! Well, possibly three-and-a-half. He’s also a semi-frequent guest and contributor on local food podcast Dining on a Dime.
I wanted to get to know more about his journey to working in food and how he got to where he is today. Like so many chefs, it’s a story of tenacity, passion, and hard work, so, please give this a read:
Philly Grub: When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Jim Hasson: Never went to culinary school. At 12, both of my parents worked so I would come home from school, open the fridge and it would be like an episode of Chopped except the secret ingredient was always hamburger. I would cook meals for my younger sister and I, inspired by my Pre Food network PBS heroes, Justin Wilson, Julia Child and the ultimate chef, Yan, from Yan Can Cook.
PG: When did you start working in kitchens?
JH: At 19 I found myself working as a Lower Merion police officer, thanks to my policeman father, and nepotism but I soon realized it wasnt for me. In an act of pure comedy, my first post Cop job was making donuts for Pathmark Supermarket, a job which turned into a career as I took a bakery manager position and worked there 25 years until that ship sank.
To make ends meet as my wife raised our children, I took a slew of restaurant jobs; Pizza Hut, Ground Round, Unos, Ruby Tuesday, Applebees, you name it. Mostly in front of the house as a server or bartender but I secretly longed to be behind the line. I just didn’t trust my skills.
PG: How did you finally end up behind the line?
JH: One skill I did have was making friends. I count some of Philly’s best chefs as my dear friends; Sam Jacobson (of Stargazy), Michael Strauss (of Mike’s BBQ), Kris Serviss (ofTaqueria del Norte), Han Chiang (of Han Dynasty), the list goes on. When Pathmark closed, I thought it was time to sharpen some knives and do some cooking. My first cooking job was for another friend, Jim Lord at Grubhouse. He was the first one to give me a shot in the culinary world and I won’t forget it. I still work for him to this day, at our new digs at The Bourse. At Grubhouse, I also worked under my hero and mentor Barb Romeo, an unsung star in the Philly Restaurant scene. She taught me so much about being a chef both behind the line and in front of it.
PG: Wow, so you made solid connections and worked your way up from there?
JH: Yes. I then began taking jobs based on what I needed to learn and more friends helped out. I went into making charcuterie for Ari Miller at 1732 Meats with almost no experience. In fact, at the interview, when Ari said the word, “charcuterie”, I thanked him because I wasn’t 100% sure how to pronounce it. There was certainly a learning curve there, but within about 6 months I became the plant manager and was proud to make products for both 1732 and our client D’Artagnan. Ari recently changed his game plan at 1732 and didn’t need me on a regular basis, but I’ll be ready to go with knives and curing salt when he calls.
PG: I’d say your time at 1782 Meats was quite the springboard to other opportunities.
JH: Yes. While at 1732, I met Nick Elmi, Steve Forte, and some other chefs using our facility to make Charcuterie, and when I was offered a job at their new spot, Royal Boucherie, I couldn’t say no. Surprisingly, they didn’t need a charcuterie specialist, but a Raw Bar technician. Again, I had no experience but I can assure you, there are a number of YouTube videos devoted to the subject. Plus it gave me a chance to dust off my old bartending skills of entertaining people. So far, the job has been a good fit which is surprising, as I never envisioned working for a fancy French restaurant after years of Applebee’s fare.
With me taking a break from 1732, I had a few spare days open to adding to my culinary repertoire, and another old friend Marcello De Feo stepped in and offered me a spot at his up and coming Italian Specialty store in Haddonfield. While I’m 50% Italian, I’ve never really embraced that in the kitchen. I feel like I’m finally making my wildly gesticulating ancestors proud with this job.
PG: Needless to say, you’re probably one of the hardest working men in Philly area restaurant kitchens right now, eh?
JH: I wouldn’t say I’m the hardest working guy in the business. I just like to keep busy and try new things. People seem to like me both for my skills and what I bring in spirit every day. I confused the hell out of a poor woman recently, though, who just happened to see me at 3 different jobs within 2 days. She thought I was a twin!
PG: Because of all of your diverse skills, one would think you’d be highly in demand?
JH: Funny about that, the other night I was out with Han Chiang from Han Dynasty fame. He was maybe 3 beers in and said he needed a Wok chef. Even though I have 3 main jobs and a couple of sometimes jobs, I seriously considered it because how cool would that be? Ha!
PG: What else should we know about Jim Hasson?
JH: I competed in Wing Pole this year and was offered a job by the chef at Cheerleaders Gentleman’s Club, Beth Esposito. Not stripping, just to be one of the chefs. 16 year old me would be seriously disappointed that I turned it down.
I also lived in Germany for a while and learned some baking from the bakery across the street. My dream,was to open a Philly style sandwich shop in Dresden. I think it would have killed, but didn’t have the money or ability to cut through red tape to get it done.
PG: Where do you see yourself in 5 years, Jim?
JH: Han said to me recently was, “Jim…you need to open your own restaurant” I told him I don’t think, I have the chops for that. He waved me off and said, “You don’t need the skill to open a restaurant. You hire people with skill. People like you. People want to be around you. Charisma is something you can’t teach.” I take this advice to heart. I think 5 years from now, I will have a restaurant with my dear friend Barb Romeo. And also I will be 75% bionic. (LOL!)
Thanks so much, Jim. We admire you so much and think you’re most worthy of being called an unsung hero in the Philly food scene. We can’t wait to see what happens next for you!
Do you know someone you’d like to see featured here? Contact me so that I shine a little spotlight on them here. Thanks for reading!