Grilling the Chef: Jackie Major of Butch + Babe's | Grilling the Chef | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Grilling the Chef: Jackie Major of Butch + Babe's


Published April 10, 2018 at 2:20 p.m.
Updated April 11, 2018 at 12:32 p.m.

Jackie Major of Butch + Babe's - LUKE AWTRY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Luke Awtry Photography
  • Jackie Major of Butch + Babe's

Chef Jackie Major

  • Position: Executive chef
  • Location: Burlington
  • Age: 32
  • Cuisine type: Neighborhood restaurant featuring new American pub fare with a creative twist
  • Education: Art Institute of New York City (defunct; previously known as New York Restaurant School)
  • Family: Lives in South Hero with husband and 4-year-old son
  • Past experience: Pastry chef, Butch + Babe's and Barrio Bakery, Burlington; creative director/teacher, ARCafé, nonprofit student-run café that taught cooking skills to high school students, Vinalhaven, Maine; executive chef, 64 Main Street, Vinalhaven; sous chef, Savoy, New York City; apprentice, Blue Hill, New York City
  • What's on the menu? Mac-and-cheese pancakes, falafel dog, chicken and stuffing, pork patties, pickles and fermented veggies

On her day off last week, Butch + Babe's executive chef Jackie Major made six versions of kale salad. She set each salad on the bar of the Old North End restaurant in a big white bowl and taste-tested them with restaurant owner Kortnee Bush. The women zeroed in on two of the salads — both tossed in blue cheese dressing — and assessed their virtues for the spring menu.

The salad topped with a sunny-side-up egg seemed more "indulgent," Bush decided. The one with pickled egg was sexier.

"If you have it with pickled egg," she explained, "you feel OK about getting dessert."

No final decision was made on the kale salad, which also will be analyzed by cost per ingredient.

"We really have to stay on top of the numbers," Major noted. "And it's a huge drag."

She has worked at Butch + Babe's since a few weeks after it opened in the winter of 2015. This January, Major moved from pastry chef to executive chef — a change that brings her back to her first love: the fire.

"When I started, my mentality was, Ooh, that's for girls. I don't want to do that," Major said of being a pastry chef. "It didn't seem exciting enough. I wanted to be on the hot line. I wanted to be where it was fast and hot."

Major took time from testing salads to talk with Seven Days about the Old North End, why hot dogs are so good and what happens on her office day.

Jackie Major of Butch + Babe's - LUKE AWTRY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Luke Awtry Photography
  • Jackie Major of Butch + Babe's

SEVEN DAYS: You've opened a restaurant on a small island in Maine and cooked in New York City restaurants. What lessons from each did you bring to Butch + Babe's?

JACKIE MAJOR: In New York City, it doesn't matter what people want. It only matters what your brain can create. Because someone will be there and be like, "This is amazing." And then when you're on a small island off the coast of Maine, you can't do that. You have to really hone in [on] what people want to eat, and you have to really cater to that. There's a part of me that'll always have New York ... You do it your way. But I always have to take into account what the community wants.

I would definitely say that [in Burlington], the amount of vegetarian food we have on the menu is very much dictated by the Old North End. We have a pretty young crowd. Everybody's coming in looking for cleaner, healthier food. I've tried to hone in on that but also have been playful. Just because it's good for you doesn't mean that it has to be stuffy.

SD: How do you unwind from the adrenaline rush after a Saturday night on the grill, flipping burgers and making fries for about 120 diners?

JM: It's very hard to come down off them. When I was much younger, it would be many, many beers. Now that I'm a mother, it's episodes of '90s sitcoms. Most of the time, it's "Roseanne." Sometimes it's old sci-fi. I try to watch television that is pre-tech boom, because I don't want to be reminded of the world that we live in.

In the summertime, I'll come home [to South Hero] and go for a night swim. That's nice. I'll drive right down to the water, jump in, swim, go home and go to sleep.

SD: I love the Dog House section of your menu. Why do you think a couple of hot dogs and French fries always hit the spot?

JM: It's just the perfect meal. It signifies that we're approachable. A lot of people could see fancier dishes and say, "It's not our style." Having a Chicago dog or a corn dog, anybody could come in to that place and know what it is and want to eat it.

SD: How does the neighborhood figure in to what you're doing at Butch + Babe's?

JM: Hugely! On the whole, the base of our customers is coming from this neighborhood. I'm definitely thinking about them. I'm thinking about what regulars have told me. I try to make a habit of talking to the people that are here a lot, asking them what they like about a dish and what they didn't.

Having a relationship with the customers is the most important [thing] to me. People in the Old North End are so approachable. It's starting to feel like the neighborhood knows me. I like having that rapport. The neighborhood feels like an entity in and of itself.

SD: Have you ever experienced a #MeToo incident in the kitchen? If so, what happened, and how'd you deal with it?

JM: When I was coming of age in professional kitchens in New York City, it was never really an issue for me. The men I was working along with never made a big deal that I was a girl; we were all working as hard as we could. There were always jokes, and I had gotten a thick skin around it. I had a lot of very important men in leadership roles, singling me out, [saying], "You have talent, and I want to train that talent." For the most part, it was an extremely supportive environment.

Sadly enough, when I was a teenager, I worked in a deli [in suburban Maryland] where I was experiencing sexual harassment on a daily basis. And I just thought that was how it was — a lot of older men in their fifties and sixties, making comments about my teenage body. That was intense and gross. There was pornography in the bathroom. I was 14 years old.

SD: At Butch + Babe's, you work in an open kitchen. Are there things you don't do because people are watching?

JM: I would say I eat less on the line. You got to taste things, but you got to remember people are watching and don't snack [too much] in front of them. I guess I just curse quieter and eat less.

SD: You now have an office day once a week at work. What does a chef do in an office?

JM: So much stuff. The most annoying stuff. You sit behind a computer screen and analyze cost-analysis worksheets. It's the worst. We work schedules and write recipes, because a lot of times I'll change a dish, and my cooks will be forced to work off a tiny scrap of paper that's been in my pocket.

And the most important thing is tasting food. If I'm going to be cooking on the office day, I save it for the last couple of hours, because, if I start cooking, I won't get to the office. I get too distracted by wanting to taste new things. Me and a desk — it's not good.

SD: When and how did your interest in cooking and food develop?

JM: My interest in cooking food came directly from my interest in eating food. I was always a very adventurous eater. My mom likes to joke that the first sentence I ever said was, "More salad, please."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Back to the Fire"