Chef Julie Carrion
The Kitchen at Hartford Public Library & The Kitchen at Billings Forge
Julie, could you begin by introducing yourself, and introducing The Kitchen for someone who hasn’t been there before?
Sure, I am the Chef Director of The Kitchen at Hartford Public Library and The Kitchen at Billings Forge. [The Hartford Public Library] location recently opened as a satellite for our location on Broad Street, a beautiful venue for catering, and a café that is open for breakfast and lunch onsite at the library.
So how do you manage the food here? And what about the local farms?
We have relationships with local farms that come to our weekly farmers’ markets at the Billings Forge location. Our larger, commercial kitchen is located at the other location, so items are prepped and shipped over. That’s where our training location is too. But the baked goods for the breakfast are actually baked onsite here (at The Library) at an upstairs smaller location which will also be used for classes.
You are also the Director of Education. Philosophically, what does that mean for The Kitchen?
We are part of a non-profit called Billings Forge Community Works. Our job training program was started in 2009, and employs people from Hartford who have had significant barriers to employment. It’s a twelve week program that gets people job-ready. I also run educational programs for youth and our after-school programs at Billings Forge, as well as public cooking classes and private team building events.
Could you tell me more about this really lovely location that you have at The Library?
The partnership between The Library and The Kitchen really just made sense, as the library was looking for an institution that was dedicated to Hartford, and dedicated to employing Hartford, really looking at the people of this community and what their needs were. We were a more natural fit than a larger corporation. We source locally and we take a lot of consideration on the local economy.
Tell me more about your menu and the local flavors – who is the mastermind behind it?
(*laughs*) I’m lucky to have a very talented sous chef and baker in the kitchen with me, so really, all the time, the menus are designed around what’s available. We use a provider that grows hydroponic lettuce in the winter, for example. It’s all around what’s growing at that time.
Do you have any personal favorites from the menu?
It’s funny to say you’re very excited about root vegetables, but we really are!
Tell me about your weddings. What sort of bride chooses The Kitchen?
I’m getting a lot of brides who hear about us through Firebox restaurant – our fine dining partner. Sometimes they come to us through a farm – like Rosedale Farms. And then we will represent Rosedale Farms food on the menu at Rosedale, so the food doesn’t have to travel far at all.
For you, it sounds like you wear a lot of hats on a daily basis. Do you have a favorite part of the job?
I’m really lucky that I really love the people that I work with. We choose the people on our staff, mentor them carefully, and give them a lot of love. So I would say that I really love working with the staff that we’ve been so careful to build. I love to interact with the trainees. And I really love to make that big day happen for that special someone, be it a wedding, or a big catered event, such as our Farm-to-Table seated dinner for 380 people in the Billings Forge Garden. I mean, things like that give me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction.
Chef Carrion shows us some of The Kitchen's menu items
The Kitchen's public cooking classes
The restaurant's busy schedule
A quick look at the new Kitchen at Hartford Public Library