Being a chef is a dream come true for Jonathan Fagan, who took over meal planning and preparation duties at HarborChase of Jasper in November.Though Fagan has prepared his share of high-end dishes in …
Being a chef is a dream come true for Jonathan Fagan, who took over meal planning and preparation duties at HarborChase of Jasper in November.
Though Fagan has prepared his share of high-end dishes in his career, he would rather spend his time on meals that make people happy.
"I love to give people quality food that they enjoy eating. I love to make people happy, and I think you can taste that in my food," said Fagan, who makes his home in Corner.
Fagan took up cooking at an early age out of necessity. He jokes about some of the terrible meals that his mother, who worked two job throughout his childhood, served to him as a kid.
Fagan showed an aptitude for cooking from the start. In high school, he won a regional ice cream treat artist award while working at Dairy Queen.
After graduating from Oak Grove High School in 2009, he hoped to go to culinary school, but his parents convinced him to give college a try.
He slogged through classes for two years before enrolling in Birmingham's Culinard, which closed along with Virginia College in 2018.
Fagan earned an associate's degree in culinary arts while also working two jobs, one at Iz Catering in Vestavia Hills and the other at the Redmont Hotel in downtown Birmingham.
"I would go to work from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at my first job, go to class from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and then work from 6:30 p.m. to midnight. I did that for nine months," Fagan said.
Fagan started at the Redmont as an entry-level cook and was eventually promoted to sous chef. As his role changed, his responsibilities included much more than meal prep.
"The chef life is a very hard life. It's not just cooking the food. You're managing employees, doing inventory, ordering, organizing, preparing for inspections. That's the difference between a chef and a cook. You can be a wonderful cook but not a great chef. Finding a balance is the key to doing it," Fagan said.
After three years at the Redmond, Fagan decided it was time for a change.
He wanted a break from 60-hour weeks and the constant pressure of turning a profit.
At HarborChase, he spends his time focusing on quality and efficiency.
Fagan has remade the menus at the assisted living facility so that there is less repetition, fewer fried dishes and more appetizing combinations.
Residents have responded well to some of the new additions, such as shrimp and grits and Chinese dishes like Mongolian beef and sesame chicken.
Fagan gets to share his cooking with a wider audience at HarborChase's monthly family nights and special events such as a recent cooking demonstration for area agencies who work closely with HarborChase.
His most important customers, however, are always the residents who make their way to the dining room three times a day.
"You have to adjust to sell to your customer in a private restaurant, but this is their home, so you certainly want to make them happy," Fagan said.