American Chinese; Roman Burger from local chain Mr. Hero
Hobbies and interests
Favorite Culinary Book
The Making of a Chef, by Michael Ruhlman
Favorite TV Food Show
The upscaling that has been going on in sports concessions has also attracted high-powered culinary talent formerly found almost exclusively in white tablecloth restaurants, clubs, resorts and tony hotels.
That's the career path that brought James Major — an award-winning ACF-certified chef de cuisine — to Progressive Field, home of the American League's Cleveland Indians.
James not only serves as the executive chef overseeing culinary operations at the ballpark, but he also lends his expertise as regional executive chef to other locations where his employer, the Sportservice division of Delaware North Companies, operates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Florida.
His duties often put him at the head of large culinary teams assigned to pull off many of Delaware North's most complex events, such as All Star Gala and All Star Pre-Game parties for Major League Baseball's All Star Game, each attended by some 4,000 guests.
Major joined Sportservice in early 2007 as the chef at Progressive Field's Terrace Club restaurant, and was named executive chef the following year.
It is a dream job for the Cleveland native who grew up watching the Indians. Major began as a ship's cook in the U.S. Navy, where he earned three achievement medals, then went to culinary school and interned at Cafe Central in New York City before returing home.
He then worked for several noted Cleveland restaurants and also operated his own place (Club Isabella), winning a number of awards, including the regional James Beard Award Dinner in 2001.
“When I was little my mom said I could either get a paper route or wash dishes. I decided I wasn't getting up every morning at five o'clock, so I went to do dishes on the weekend at a little local party center. That was my first experience in the foodservice business.
“I was manager at Lakeland Community College and not sure what I wanted to be when the Food Network first went on the air. I saw those chefs and decided, ‘That's what I want to do!’ But when I looked into culinary schools I saw that they were extremely expensive. So I joined the Navy instead.
“Cooks were not the highest regarded positions in the Navy at the time and there were plenty of more prestigious technical jobs I could have applied for but I insisted on being a cook. I think they felt so bad that they gave me the college fund — it's a kind of bonus grant — on top of my GI Bill.
“I was aboard a ship, the USS Gunston Hall, my whole four years in the Navy. The food was real old school. Back then, you could write your own menus, you were making your own bread.
“I was fortunate to have a senior chief, Mark Olsen, who made sure we had what we needed. He also said, ‘No more pre-made stuff. Use the ingredients we have on hand.’ He was really the first one to give me a mystery basket. And when I was considering whether to stay in the military, he was the one who told me, ‘You have a gift. Go and fulfill your dreams.’
“The toughest critics I've ever had are still the 700 sailors I had to live with every day. They gave me thick skin.
“Club Isabella was my statement: my food my way. Great food, few ingredients, change the menu all the time, except for the staples. I'd call the produce guy and ask for whatever looked sharp that was seasonal. When your name's on the building, you have a whole different attitude about what you're doing.
“I'm a braiser. I like to slow-cook. I like to take the cuts of meat that nobody wants and make them elegant. I like and celebrate the pig because so many of the pieces can be slow-cooked. I think the pig is God's greatest gift to food and I use every part.
“Progressive Field is the best job I'll ever have. My dining room seats 40,000 people, and I do everything from concession stands and picnics to luxury suites, sports bars and fine dining.