Cooking Up Connections in Kalamazoo0
Executive Chef Jason McClellan is drawn to chemistry-the chemistry between ingredients he cooks with and the connection he feels with volunteering in the Kalamazoo community.
A Mattawan native, McClellan serves as the Executive Chef of Fieldstone Grill, a part of the Millennium Restaurant Group. He settled in Kalamazoo after attending Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City.
"I fell in love with being a part of a growing, thriving community," McClellan said of his return to the area.
He also enjoys sharing his passion for cooking with others.
"I love to mentor individuals who are passionate about learning. Just helping someone understand the process and technical side of preparing and the finishing touches of a risotto dish is exciting. I love to see others succeed," he said.
Shelly Pastor, Founding Partner of Millennium Restaurant Group, said those qualities make McClellan a valued employee.
"What I love about Jason is that he is a learner and has great energy and enthusiasm," she said. "He's the type of individual who gets great pleasure from building a team and seeing others excel.
"Jason has done a super job for us!"
McClellan said he came by his interest in food early on.
"I grew up in the kitchen and in the summers I was a food runner in South Haven at Three Pelicans. Cooking gives you the opportunity to create and I enjoy playing with the chemistry of foods," he said.
The chef said he also enjoys the business side of running a restaurant.
"It's really the challenge of developing the business and figuring out what people might enjoy eating," McClellan said.
Beyond cooking for others, McClellan also strives to educate people, especially children, about where their foods come from by volunteering in the community.
"Right now I'm interested in community gardens and helping children understand where food really comes from," he said. "Like carrots-they don't just appear in the grocery store."
Through his volunteer efforts, McClellan is able to help shape the community; something the soon-to-be father recommends all young people take part in.
"I didn't spend a lot of time in downtown Kalamazoo until I was in my teenage years and early twenties, but I always thought it was a fun and lively town. It always felt like we knew something others didn't in spending time downtown.
"It has been cool to watch it become a more popular place to be in recent years," he said. "Downtown Kalamazoo is alive with great restaurants, events, performances from national bands, and, of course, great local microbrews."
When he's not in the kitchen or preparing for his daughter's arrival in July, McClellan enjoys hanging out at Bell's Brewery.
"I happen to love the atmosphere and the beer, especially Two Hearted Ale," McClellan said.
In terms of nostalgia, a different establishment tops McClellan's list.
"A few of my top memories in Kalamazoo happened at the Union Cabaret and Grille. I fell in love with cooking there 10 years ago. It is where I met my wife working together and eventually proposed to her on the stage."