Top Chefs

Text by Lisa Leigh Connors | Photography by Paul Blackmore

One restaurant is located inside an airport, another inside a movie theater on Main Street and three are spread out across a resort and spa, one featuring panoramic views of Chatham Harbor. The spots range from small and cozy to grand and fancy.

But whatever the locale, atmosphere or size of their restaurant, the six executive chefs profiled on the following pages have many years of cooking under their coat sleeves and share many common traits: they shop at farmers markets, work with local fishermen, use the freshest ingredients possible and deliver first-class cuisine. Whether cooking with thyme or marjoram, bluefish or bonito, heirloom tomatoes or fresh figs, these special chefs aim to serve nothing less than high-quality, creative fare.

Hangar B chef Brian Erskine sums it up best: “I don’t expect people to go to Hangar B every day. “I want them to try other places. If we are all slightly different, then it’s better for everyone.”

_Z3A4132 ( Jung
Executive Chef of Bluefins Sushi & Saki Bar

Paul Jung’s father gave him an important piece of advice growing up: “Whatever you want to be in life, be the top person.” But he could never tell his father he wanted to be a chef because it was not a respected profession in South Korea. In 2002, Jung started his career at Benihana in Houston, Texas, and later worked in North Carolina before arriving in Chatham, where he first landed a job at Chatham Fish Pier several years ago. Now, as executive chef of Bluefins, the focus is always on the customer, he says. “I want the customer to be happy for my food,” says Jung, pictured with the popular Toro Jalapeño Roll. Jung says he listens to the customers and their input helps him create the menu.  While Japanese food tends to focus on decorations and complicated garnishes, Jung prefers to keep it simple and tasty. Bluefins is doing something right. After opening just last year, they have recently expanded next door. The new space will include a large bar area and two sushi chefs.

Jonathan Haffmans_Z3A6488 (
Executive Chef/Owner of Vers

If you don’t spot Haffmans at Vers, chances are he’s at a nearby farmers market buying butternut squash, fresh greens, mushrooms, cranberries or apples. He regularly visits farmers markets at least four or five times a week in Orleans and Chatham (pictured). “It’s perfect because we are not a large restaurant,” says Haffmans, who was born and raised in the Netherlands. He grew up in an area similar to Cape Cod, he says, where fresh clams, mussels and oysters were plentiful. It’s also where he learned how to make everything from pizza and bread to honey and apple cider from scratch on his family’s farm. This approach carries over to Vers, located in the Orpheum Theater, where all the items on the menu are made in-house—even the ketchup and mayonnaise. “This helps make the food more unique,” says Haffmans, who operates the year-round restaurant with his wife, Karen.

_Z3A4196 ( Pollio
Executive chef of Del Mar Bar & Bistro

“I have been in this building for 10 years,” says Pollio, who started as a waitress at Roo-Bar and moved her way up to executive chef when owner John Zartarian turned it into Del Mar more than six years ago. The self-taught chef, one of five kids, says she is not afraid to try anything new and loves cooking in the open kitchen to connect with diners. “Our customers come up to the line and talk to us,” says Pollio, who works alongside her twin brothers. Her signature dishes include appetizers and salads. People go crazy, she says, over my Tuscan Kale Salad: wilted Tuscan kale, bacon, hazelnuts, dried cranberries, Brussel sprouts, sherry Dijon vinaigrette and grated Manchego cheese sprinkled on top. Pollio says she loves comfort food, but done in an elegant way. “I want people to leave here satisfied, but not overstuffed.” (Pictured: Coconut curry seafood stew with scallops, lobster and mussels, served with steamed Jasmine rice.)

Brian Erskine_Z3A4592 (
Chef/Co-owner of Hangar B

At Hangar B, you’ll find red flannel hash, lemon ricotta pancakes, homemade jams and freshly baked goods. What you won’t find on the menu is clam chowder, artificial syrups or American cheese. “It’s not real cheese,” says Erskine, who owns the popular breakfast spot with his partner, Tracy Shields. “It’s two ingredients away from being plastic.” And while Erskine loves clam chowder, you can get it at just about every restaurant on the Cape. “Why do that? To me, the more different you are the better,” says Erskine, pictured here at the Organic Market, where he shops regularly for fresh produce, granola and organic nuts. The couple, who have owned Hangar B since 2009, serve nearly 300 people daily in the summertime. “The hour-and-a-half wait,” says Shields, “is a good problem to have.”

_Z3A4659 ( Cole
Executive Chef of Chatham Bars Inn

“There is a cadence to all four seasons, especially on Cape Cod, which inspires me to cook very seasonally,” says Cole, who worked for the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta, Naples, Fla., and St. Louis before arriving at Chatham Bars Inn nine years ago. It could be peas in the springtime, corn and watermelon in the summer, or tomatoes in late August and September. “We have customized our menus to try and highlight items at their peak,” says Cole, who graduated from Johnson & Wales University. It helps that Chatham Bars Inn has its own farm on Route 6A in Brewster, which gives Cole the freedom to switch up the vegetables every day and offer creative side dishes and salads, such as the burrata and heirloom tomato salad with fresh farm tomatoes and crispy fried green tomatoes. Cole says to expect more farm-to-table dinners at the resort this year. (pictured: pan-roasted local tautog, roasted butternut squash, heirloom cauliflower, carrot ginger emulsion, and brown buttermilk).

Sue Connors_B1_7983 (
Chef/Co-owner of Pisces

At Pisces, Connors lets the food speak for itself. “You don’t need to add a lot to the fish here in Chatham,” says Connors, who works with local weir fishermen who bring in squid, bluefish, flounder and black bass, among many others. One of the most popular dishes is the fisherman’s stew (pictured), which showcases local fish: sautéed shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops and codfish in a spicy lobster broth with cilantro and lime juice. “We just enhance what is already there,” says Connors. In the off-season—the restaurant closes Columbus Day weekend—Connors enjoys traveling to the West Coast and down south to broaden her culinary horizons and get ideas for presentation and cocktails. Back at her restaurant, she says the biggest compliment she receives from customers is that they feel like they are at home in the 12-table dining room. “We keep it simple,” says Connors, “but not too simple where it’s boring.”