Chef Tostrup joins Free Range; Neal’s opens in Proctorsville
Neal’s owner also challenges Tostrup, Free Range to a softball game

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Chef Jason Tostrup at the Free Range Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Free Range Restaurant owners Anne and Rick Paterno announced today that Chef Jason Tostrup will be joining them in mid-November as managing partner and executive chef.

Tostrup is best known in the area for his tenure at the Inn at Weathersfield and, for the past four years, has been executive chef for the Okemo Mountain Resort.

“Anne and I are thrilled to have a chef of Jason’s caliber not only in the kitchen but also as managing partner,” said Rick Paterno in an interview on Monday morning. “We have been living off our instincts, but he has years of experience. We haven’t had the strategic conversation, but we’re happy to set the guardrails and give Jason the keys.”

Tostrup honed his craft under Charles Dale at the Renaissance Restaurant in Aspen and Thomas Keller at Bouchon in Napa Valley. In his eight and a half years at the Inn at Weathersfield, Tostrup’s work was recognized with Bon Appetit Magazine’s “Top Ten Hot Culinary Inns of America” and as  “Best Restaurant in Vermont” by Foder’s Guide in 2011. He has also cooked a number of times at the James Beard House in New York City, including a meal featuring veal from Lisa Kaiman’s Jersey Girls dairy, also located in Chester. It was the first time that a farmer was showcased alongside the chef.

Tostrup and his two children will be living above the restaurant, an opportunity to have a European work experience that his mentor Charles Dale recommended years ago, he says. And it’s just a short walk to Chester-Andover Elementary where his kids, Jake and Olivia, will attend school.

What will change, what remains the same

The Free Range team, from left, Rick Paterno, Anne Paterno and Jason Tostrup

While there will certainly be changes, Anne Paterno says that Tostrup believes in the Free Range’s concept of “Fresh Food, Relaxed Dining.”

“I have a lot of respect for what Rick and Anne have done here,” said Tostrup noting things will be fundamentally the same, “There will be nuanced changes – but not blowing things up.”

Tostrup characterized his style as seasonal and said there would be more specials with fresh, creative ideas and an accent on hospitality. “But you’ll still be able to get a burger or the pasta,” says Tostrup.

“And the ‘The Mookster,’ ” adds Anne Paterno, referring to the popular chicken sandwich.

“It won’t be farm to table or fine dining,” says Rick Paterno. “The goal is a casual restaurant with elevated food.” Paterno said that local and regional support have been the key to restaurant’s success and that Tostrup’s concentration on hospitality will add to that vibe.

“Jason will not be buried in the kitchen,” says Rick Paterno, “he’ll be out front with Anne and me.”

The Paternos say the intention is that Tostrup will eventually become the owner of the Free Range.  “We believe Jason is the perfect person to build on what we’ve started.”

Ross Westney, the current chef, worked with Tostrup  at the Inn at Weathersfield and will remain on board as chef de cuisine.

And with this new development, the Paternos added that they will be taking the business off the market, which has been listed for since April 1.

Neal’s opens in former Table 19 space

In late September, Neal Baron quietly opened his new eatery – Neals Restaurant & Bar – on Route 103 in Proctorsville. With decades of restaurant experience, Baron wanted to do a “soft” open to give his kitchen and servers a chance to work with the menu in the space. And now Neal’s is open for dinner six days a week.

“It’s going extremely well,” Baron said Monday. “It’s really about serving the kind of food we would like to order at prices that people can afford. We cater to locals and we’re seeing familiar faces over and over.”

“I’m glad we did the soft open,” said Baron. “We found a bunch of kinks that we had to work out.” Now the challenge is handling the high volume.

Baron was raised in New York state, but his family had a summer place north of Woodstock and 11 years ago he moved to Vermont. Having started as a busboy more than 20 years ago, he knew he could get work in restaurants and he landed a job as dining room manager at the Inn at Weathersfield with Chef Jason Tostrup.

Baron met his executive chef, Chris Vincent, while the pair were working at the Echo Lake Inn.

Smoking brisket and pork shoulder Photo provided

“During down times, we would talk about restaurant concepts and what you would do if you had your own place,” said Baron. He says they noticed there’s not a good bar-b-que or fried chicken place in the area and Baron’s fiancee Liz Leninski added several dishes including oysters Rockefeller.

Baron’s mother, who has no restaurant experience but is “a fast learner,” was recruited to work the host podium. “Mom was retired for a year and starting to get bored. She needed something to do,” said Baron. “So I called her and said ‘Mom, I got a job for you.’ ”

Baron gives the facility’s former owners, Joe and Kathryn Evans, high marks for their work creating the short-lived Table 19 restaurant.

“Joe and Kathryn did an amazing job with the design,” said Baron. “It’s a fancy interior where we serve comfort food that folks on a budget can afford. But the food is hand-prepared, hand-cooked just like fine dining.” Baron said that some sound-proofing was installed to make the space less noisy.

Neal’s has eight beers on tap – including seven Vermont beers – and an on-tap wine system plus a small wine list and full bar. The restaurant is open 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Monday and 1 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

As for the new chef at the Free Range, Baron has thrown down the gauntlet: Neal’s will be fielding a softball team and expects to face off against a Free Range team and Chef Jason Tostrup. “I love Chef Jason, he’s a great friend,” says Baron laughing. “But we’re going to hose him in softball. Not even close. He’s going down.”

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  1. Bruce Farr says:

    I think it’s great to see two premier restaurant pros–Jason and Neal–adding their talent and expertise to the local dining scene. We “consumers” can only stand to benefit from their career moves, and we look forward to many fine hours of dining and socializing at their respective restaurants.

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