2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Josh Lawler of Farm and Fisherman

2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Josh Lawler of Farm and Fisherman
February 2013

With a grandfather who worked as a butcher and a quarter-acre farm in his backyard, Pennsylvania native Josh Lawler’s connection to land and food have always been personal. That connection drew him to the kitchen early. He started cooking at 14, and seven years later, he graduated from Drexel University with a degree in hotel and restaurant management.

After working at Philadelphia restaurants, including The Fountain, Buddakan, and Striped Bass, Lawler moved to New York City to work under Laurent Tourondel at BLT Steak and under Bill Telepan as chef de cuisine at Telepan. Lawler’s next step didn’t take him too far from New York City—just 20 miles north of Manhattan—but it brought him back to the roots of his childhood food experiences and, arguably, American cuisine. As chef de cuisine of Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Lawler played an instrumental role in the restaurant’s success and in defining the modern farm-to-table movement.

In spring 2011, Lawler took his experience and passion for all thing local back to his home state, opening Farm and Fishermen with his wife (and sous chef) Colleen, whom he met at Drexel. At Farm and Fisherman, Lawler continues to deepen his relationship with the land and his purveyors—and now his diners—serving as a steward for the future of honest and inspiring local cooking.

I Support: The Food Trust


Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Josh Lawler

Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?

Josh Lawler: My grandfather was a butcher. I loved to cook, and  I started at 14. I went to Drexel University for hospitality and culinary. I studied abroad for a well-rounded education in London. It was the most fun six months of my life. I’ve not done much else except cooking.

CH: Why did you decide to move back to Philadelphia?

JL: I was chef de cuisine for three years at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I have twin boys who are 3 right now. Stone Barns was the best job in the world, but I was sick of all the tasting menus. I was ready to get closer to family. I started with a small space and did all the work myself. I was in business in eight weeks. I didn't take a huge risk, and I’m growing a little more organically, with no outside investor money—I bought my freezer for $65 on Craigslist.

CH: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?

JL: Baby steps. Work at lots of different places, but give them a good year and work for free if you have to. But don’t let people take advantage of you.

CH: What’s your philosophy on food and dining?

JL: Quality sources for ingredients. The sum is greater than all the parts.

CH: What is your favorite interview question to prospective employees?

JL: I generally take [candidates] to a farmers market and judge their reactions to the produce. If they get inspired and excited, we move forward. If they are duds, I drop them off at home.

CH: What’s the toughest challenge you have had to overcome?

JL: We’re not set up for parking. The limitation of the space means there’s no waiting room or bar. It’s a fine line; people stay too long, and we need to honor the next reservation. That’s the main thing we go back and forth with. We’re as generous as possible.

CH: What’s your proudest accomplishment to date?

JL: Maintaining business, with loyal regulars. People who keep coming back are the best compliment as a chef. The first three months, you think no one is going to show up.

CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?

JL: I'm still finding my cooking style. I can change the menu easily, and have people come in and are excited to try new things. I’ll work at this a little longer. There are a lot of spaces, but they're the same things that get regurgitated. Small or big, it’s hard to find 50 to 60 seats. We’ll have to move or keep this and do something bigger. It’s tricky because people have the idea that you’re a humble, 30-seat BYO guy. The neighborhood following keeps you in business.