LAKE PLACID - For Jarrad Lang, the kitchen is like a second home.
Lang, 36, is the executive chef at the Mirror Lake Inn, which includes two restaurants: The View and the Taste Bistro. He's been at the Mirror Lake Inn for nearly four years and currently lives in Saranac Lake with his fiancee, Becca Farrell.
Lang grew up in Schroon Lake and graduated from high school there. Like many Adirondack youths, Lang's first job was in the kitchen, washing dishes.
Jarrad Lang, executive chef at the Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid, has always felt at home in the kitchen.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"You wash dishes, you bus tables - that's like the summer job of 90 percent of the kids in town, for the most part," Lang said. "I started doing that, and I kind of lucked out when I was 18 years old.
"I went in for a job, asked if they needed a dishwasher, but they needed a helper as a cook. They asked me if I wanted to be a cook, and I said sure."
Lang said he was introduced to cooking by his grandmothers. He would hang around the kitchen and watch them put together meals, often finding himself in their way.
"I was always trying to get my hands into everything," Lang said.
Lang had hoped to attend college to study fine arts after graduating from high school, but those plans fell through. He took a year-and-a-half off from cooking, trying his hand at construction and taking a night shift at a KMart.
It didn't take long for Lang to return to the kitchen, though; when he turned 21, he took his first big kitchen job at the Friends Lake Inn in Chestertown.
"Pretty quickly, before the summer was even over, I was shoveled off of the dishwashing station ... and was making salads," Lang said. "It was the first time I worked with chefs, with people who went to culinary school. That was my first exposure to that kind of atmosphere."
While working at the Friends Lake Inn, Lang was able to attend high-profile culinary events like the New York Hotel Show, and was exposed to high-end restaurants like the Gotham Bar and Grill in Manhattan.
Lang said those experiences helped him realize what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
"All these years, and different things I wanted to do for work, always kept leading me back to being in restaurants," he said. "It was always where I felt most comfortable. You put me on a construction site, and it was always awkward. I could do the work, but it never felt right.
"Cooking, being in the kitchen, was just natural to me," Lang added.
In 1997, Lang decided to attend culinary school at Paul Smith's College. Soon after, he was accepted into the college's French externship program with help from Chef Paul Sorgule, who served as dean of hospitality and culinary arts until 2004. In France, Lang had an opportunity to work at some of the world's top-rated restaurants. Upon returning, he finished his degree at Paul Smith's and moved to Boston, where he worked at the Tuscan Grill.
But living in Boston on a line cook's wages soon led Lang to return to the Adirondacks. He worked in the kitchen at the Aroma 'Round in Lake Placid, worked briefly as a French externship chaperone for Paul Smith's, then rose through the ranks at the Hotel Saranac.
Lang spent three years at the Hotel Saranac, where the culinary team entered the New York Hotel Show and came away with several awards. When Paul Smith's College sold the property to Sewa Arora and his family in 2007, Lang took over as executive chef - but not for long.
"It seemed like an alright deal," Lang said. "I took the job. But it didn't work out. I watched stuff that I had worked on and worked to build over three years get scrapped. It just kind of all fell apart."
Lang then worked for a year as a prep cook at the Hilton in Lake Placid (now the High Peaks Resort). After that brief stint, he reconnected with Sorgule at the Mirror Lake Inn.
Lang said that's when his career solidified. He said he's since embraced a style of cooking and a menu that he refers to as "elegant comfort food."
Lang said in recent years, television programs like "Iron Chef" have caused chefs and fans of food to gravitate toward bizarre fusion dishes - items that mix Italian cuisine with Thai food, for example. He said in a setting like the Adirondacks, that's not necessarily what people are looking for.
"I take the classic dishes, like a bacon-wrapped filet mignon, and just make them as nice as possible," Lang said. "And you know what? We end up selling more of those than anything else.
"There's a whole argument in food about whether cooking is an art or a craft," he added. "I come from the school of thought that it's a craft. It's a blue-collar job. Not to say there isn't an artistic side to it. But it's still craft work, and I think that the people who go into it with this wild way of thinking are the ones who inevitably get upset when someone doesn't like their food."
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.