You’ve probably heard about the culinary transformation that’s happening in Worcester. We’ve talked about it, the Globe has talked about it, Boston.com has talked about it, and it’s unlikely to let up any time soon. Especially with someone like Jared Forman at the helm of two Worcester restaurants that are helping to turn the city into a dining destination.
Forman is chef and co-owner of Worcester’s deadhorse hill and simjang, two relatively young but acclaimed restaurants. While his resume boasts big names like Per Se, Momofuku, and Gramercy Tavern in New York City, his philosophy is that great restaurants should exist in every neighborhood. That was certainly true of his former post – the now-shuttered Strip-T’s in Watertown, where Forman worked with one of his current business partners, Sean Woods. On the heels of two very successful years at deadhorse hill they, along with third partner Bert LaValle, recently launched simjang, serving Korean-American fare in a fun and brightly colored atmosphere. The name means “heart” in Korean, a nod to Worcester as “The heart of the Commonwealth.”
Forman will participate again this year in the Taste of WGBH Food & Wine Festival Chef’s Gala. The Gala, hosted by WGBH’s very own Jim and Margery from Boston Public Radio, is the most opulent of festival events, featuring the cuisine of 21 award-winning chefs plus wine and beer pairings for each dish. The event will be accompanied by a soon-to-be-revealed popular band – Forman hopes it’s Lake Street Dive.
We caught up with Forman recently to hear all about what he’s bringing to the Gala. Diners will be treated to a very special fried chicken similar to what’s served at simjang. It’s a Korean-inspired revision of the southern fried chicken thighs that are consistently one of the most popular items on the deadhorse hill menu. Forman explains, “They’re fried in chicken fat, low and slow, so the chicken is almost braised, and then fried again to get it crispy.” An NYC transplant whose experience encompasses the funky, from his time with the Momofuku empire, and the classical, from Per Se and Gramercy, Forman consistently delivers dishes that combine simplicity with innovation. This fried chicken is a prime example. It may be a staple on every American comfort food menu, but Forman took the time to develop his recipe to his high standards using inspiration from many sources, including the America’s Test Kitchen tried-and-true double fry method. (Side note: As a former ATK Test Cook, I can vouch for the fact that Forman landed on perfection.) “Korean fried chicken is a completely different texture, completely gluten free but still super juicy, and still twice fried. It’s a batter instead of a dredge, made with soju, a distilled sweet potato product from Korea. Because of the potato starch in the coating, it doesn’t get soggy. You can dress it with sauces and the chicken stays crispy underneath.” Forman is also particular about the kinds of sauces used to dress fried chicken. “Hot fried chicken is always just hot and has no flavor to it. Sweet is just sweet. Ours hits on both. It’s not crazy spicy but very flavorful, with gochujang, ginger, garlic – warming heat, creating a lot of depth.”
When asked how he goes about selecting what to make for such an event, Forman said, “When I have to choose one item like this, it’s one that I think would bring someone into our restaurant. My cooks would probably rather it be the new, exciting items but people always get fried chicken. It’s what gets people in the door. Besides, if you’re just going to have one bite of something, it’s f-ing delicious!”
Preparation is key for a big event like this, and Forman’s strategy is teamwork. "We’re making something we’re super passionate about. We’re already frying boatloads of chicken every day so this is relatively easy to prepare for. I have great teams at each restaurant, so totally trust them to run the show when I’m away. I can take the time to focus and just execute really well – be really prepared.”
“Fried chicken is also something that makes sense when you’re serving a lot of people, to ensure a quality product.” Forman is one of 21 lauded chefs cooking for this year’s gala, so it’s important to him to make a good impression not only on the guest, but also the industry folks. “I think Eric Frier from Spoke will be there. I know he knows food so well, so really want to put on a good show – for all the people who know what they’re talking about in food. And for an event like this, we also just want to represent Worcester really well.” Since it’s not a Boston-based restaurant, Forman wants to make an outstanding impression that will attract people to venture slightly west. We have no doubt that one bite of his fried chicken will have you driving to Worcester for more.
If you already have your tickets to the Chef’s Gala, get excited for what Chef Forman and his team will bring. If you don’t, what are you waiting for? Buy your tickets now.