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Growing up on Long Island, New York, Chef John Merrill’s first encounter with the culinary industry came at the age of 15 when he worked in a local fish market. He received hands on training in all aspects of the operation – cutting fish, working the cash registers, stuffing clams, and even cleaning the floors. Despite the hard work, he enjoyed every minute, and when he was offered a job working at his brother-in-law’s pizza shop, he jumped at the opportunity.

Recognizing his love for the industry, Merrill attended the Culinary Institute of America in 1988. He moved to Hartford, Connecticut the following year for his externship at the JP Morgan Hotel, a four-star property. After receiving his diploma from the CIA, Chef Merrill was recruited by a former colleague to work at the Reach Resort in Key West, Florida. Starting as a Line Cook at the 230-suite property, he quickly moved to AM Sous Chef and worked to perfect the upscale cuisine which focused on regional flavors and products.

It was at the Reach Resort that Chef Merrill was presented with a tremendous, albeit stressful, opportunity. Revolutionary chef Julia Child was scheduled to have dinner at the resort, just days after the executive chef left his position. Chef Merrill seized the opportunity. Working on nervous energy and little sleep, he created a five course meal for Ms. Child. “It was, and remains, the highlight of my career,” said Merrill. “I initially thought I made the portions too large but she ate everything and thoroughly enjoyed the meal. As a chef, creating a meal for a pioneer like Ms. Child is the ultimate thrill.”

Chef Merrill was soon able to work with another renowned chef when Patrick Kemmach from France joined the resort’s culinary team. Under his tutelage, Chef Merrill was promoted to Executive Sous Chef, in charge of banquets and the dining room.

Looking to expand his culinary experience, Chef Merrill moved to back to New England, this time to Marblehead, Massachusetts. He soon joined the staff of the Boston Harbor Hotel, where he met many young colleagues and worked as a Garde Manage Chef for over a year under the direction of Executive Chef Daniel Bruce.

When the frenetic pace of the hospitality industry began wearing on him, Chef Merrill opened a gourmet catering company with a partner in Weston, Massachusetts. The business also featured a small shop, which offered high-end, homemade cuisine, available for take-out. Both divisions of the company quickly attracted a loyal following.

Eventually, Chef Merrill yearned to rejoin the fast-paced environment of the Boston restaurant scene. In 1998, he contacted Chef Ed Doyle, with whom he had worked previously at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Chef Doyle was opening Aura in the new Seaport Hotel and was looking to hire an Executive Sous Chef. Chef Merrill quickly accepted the position and worked at honing his craft for over a year. He was promoted to Aura Chef in 1999. In addition to working with the line staff, he creates new menus and works with the purchasing department to ensure the finest local products were available to the culinary team.

In 2001, Aura was presented with the AAA Four Diamond award for providing exceptional cuisine and excellent service in an elegant dining atmosphere. It is a distinction that the restaurant has retained for the past five years. During Chef Merrill’s tenure, Aura was named “Best Upscale Seafood Restaurant” by Boston magazine in their 2003 “Best of Boston” issue, further integrating itself within Boston’s thriving restaurant scene. Most recently, Aura received Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence”.

Chef Merrill is an active participant in various culinary organizations including Chefs Collaborative and the American Culinary Federation. Always interested in sharing his craft, he has participated in many cooking classes including Share Our Strength’s Operation Frontline and numerous cooking events and demonstrations including “Ready, Set, Cook” for the Food Network, The Boston Wine Expo, The Anthony Spinazzola Gala Festival of Wine & Food, and Edible.

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