“If people were aware of the labor that went into their lettuce, they would chew their salads a lot slower.”
Chef Little’s cooking revolves around roots, whether they are the turnips and carrots he plucks from the ground or the historical recipes he notably revitalized during his tenure in the Pennsylvania Dutch region, where he grew up. Seasonal and spontaneous, Little’s ground-to-gourmet plates create a visceral experience, always meant to tell a story behind the meal.
Little graduated from the Culinary Institute of America after forgoing his original plan to be a classical musician. He was first introduced to the culinary world as a waiter paying his way through college. At the time, other chefs often shooed Little out of the kitchen, where he would linger in attempts to learn by osmosis and observation. A fan of the speed, teamwork and camaraderie between the chefs, Little’s first kitchen position at a country club inspired his decision to dive headfirst into the industry. “The life of any musician is working nights, weekends, and holidays”, explains the chef, “so jumping into a restaurant career held no major differences.”
From day one of culinary school, Little knew he wanted to work alongside the venerable Patrick O’Connell at The Inn at Little Washington. Little departed after a year at the Inn with new tricks in his apron and a lifelong motivation to elevate every diner’s experience. A lauded stint at Pennsylvania’s Evermay on the Delaware (3 Bells from Craig LeBan in the Philadelphia Inquirer) eventually led him back to his hometown to spearhead the fine dining restaurant at The Sheppard Mansion.
Little is a scholar and avid researcher of the culinary arts and relayed this interest in crafting the historic bed and breakfast’s Pennsylvania Dutch inspired menu. He lent contemporary updates to the classic regional dishes he had dined on since childhood. The menu took advantage of the property’s vegetable garden and 2,000-acre farm. He credits the planting and year-round cultivation as inspiration for his self-coined “full circle” cooking style. “If you’ve taken the time to dig a trench, plant a potato, water, watch and wait to dig it out four months later,” he says, “then there is zero possibility you’re going to cook it improperly, because it’s like raising a child.”
Looking to reveal the face behind his food, the chef is passionate about preserving every animal organ and fruit rind, continuously relying on curiosity and conservation to bring out the natural charisma of his ingredients. Little wants to diverge from mindless munching to let Josephine diners see the beauty behind every beet, carrot or cut of beef. By connecting the dots and paying deference to those who raise his cattle and plow the fields where his ingredients are grown, Little puts a lot of himself into every course. “When you cook so personally, he says, “you have to inject a bit of who you are because your life experiences play into it so much.”