Robbie Jester of Stone Balloon Ale House//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
Sitting at the bar at the Stone Balloon Ale House in Newark, where he has been the chef since 2014, Robbie Jester says he learned a valuable lesson from his many appearances as a competitor on cooking shows on television’s Food Network.
“You need to simplify things,” he says. Rather than always over-thinking a dish, “you need to take a step back and just balance taste and texture.”
In his early 30s, Jester has already had a whirlwind career. After deciding the week before going to college to ditch academics, despite his excellent grades, he was quickly on the road to becoming a chef. In the years since, he has worked in his family’s restaurants in Chestertown, Md., had extensive experience in Dan Butler’s establishments, cooked at the DuPont Country Club and the Hotel du Pont, and managed the 16 Mile Taphouse, whose owners purchased the Stone Balloon and installed Jester as executive chef.
He loves the creative process, and may begin a new dish by musing on the possibilities of a single ingredient “such as a soft shell crab” or a couple of ingredients—“What can I do with chicken and waffles?”—then, like a jazz musician, riffs on that. “And I love talking with customers,” he says. “There isn’t a night that I don’t touch tables.”
As for television, he’s hooked. “It would be awesome,” he says, “to have my own show.”