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Deadhorse Hill

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Deadhorse Hill: One Reason to Drive to Worcester

Chef/co-owner Jared Forman reflects on year one and reveals why some chefs with Boston roots prefer to open restaurants elsewhere

Deadhorse Hill
| Brian Samuels for Deadhorse Hill

Jared Forman has worked for some of the best chefs from Boston to New York City; his resume includes positions at Gramercy Tavern and Per Se in New York along with Watertown’s own Strip-T’s (during Tim Maslow’s time there). Today, the chef can be found behind the stoves at Deadhorse Hill, a contemporary American restaurant in Worcester where he’s chef and co-owner. In the year that Deadhorse Hill has been open, Central Massachusetts diners have fallen in love with it, and Bostonians have begun to realize that it’s a destination dining spot worth the 50-mile drive.

Below, Forman shares his journey from Brooklyn to Worcester and what’s next for his young restaurant.

Jared Forman
Jared Forman
Brian Samuels for Deadhorse Hill

How did you decide to open up in Worcester?

I decided to move to Boston when Tim Maslow decided to come back to the area to work at his family’s restaurant, Strip-T’s. I worked there for three years and thought about moving back to NYC; then I met Sean Woods, and we got along great. He was living in Worcester and commuting back and forth to Watertown at the time. I started to notice this trend of restaurants moving west, like David Punch in Newton [Sycamore, Little Big Diner], Branch Line in Watertown, etc. I wanted to ride that wave. I came out to visit, and I really liked Worcester. It’s such a great neighborhood place.

There were a lot of factors that I thought about before we decided to open up a spot here. It was partly financial and partly about the feel of the city. It just feels right. It feels comfortable, like we can exist out here. And there are plenty of people who want good food.

What’s the biggest difference between the restaurant scene in Worcester and the restaurant scene in Boston?

In Boston or New York, you can spread yourself thin, and people can’t really afford to be a regular at restaurants. Where we are, we’re able to change our menu every day. We can connect with guests and treat our employees really well. If I was in New York, it would be $100s per square foot. Here I’m able to keep low prices.

As a chef I’m able to have different conversations with our suppliers too. Out here there are less farmers markets, so my relationships with farmers are more direct. Farmers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire are coming to Worcester just for me. In cities, you’re competing for that produce or meat or whatever.

What was the opening process like? Do you remember the months leading up to the opening of Deadhorse?

The biggest thing was Sean and me. We were two guys who were broke, and we wanted to open a restaurant. Sean’s neighbor saw us trying to open a restaurant and was really excited about us coming out here. The three of us [Forman, Woods, and Bert LaValley are co-owners of the restaurant] just kind of dug our teeth in, and we built the restaurant ourselves. We found a space with a kitchen that needed renovating, and we just got to work. Since we put so much time and effort into it, it gives us this connection to the restaurant. Every time I see a chip on the wall I get emotional about it.

The menu was actually the last thing on our minds. Food and menu writing just comes naturally to us, and I know that I’m relentless. I change something on the menu almost every day. It’s an exciting experience for your guests. We try to keep ourselves as busy and engaged as possible and pass that along to our customers.

What was opening night like?

It was quick. Money was really tight, so we realized that we needed to open as soon as humanly possible. We basically got our inspection approved, ran to City Hall to get our liquor license, and did a soft opening that same night. We did well because the people that we brought on were assassins. They were all people whom I had worked with for a long time. One of those people was Craig Hutchinson, the opening chef de cuisine of Ribelle, and our sous chef Robin, who did all of our desserts to start. She’s a lynchpin here. My friend Derek is another sous chef, and he’s our grill guy and our prep guy.

One of our prep cooks has been with us since day one. Front of the house, we’ve had a bartender who’s been with us since day one. Julia, my girlfriend, is manager and wine director. People ask me what’s the secret to successfully opening a restaurant, and I say that it’s having this exact crew of people. You can’t do this alone. I can only do so much as one person, so I’m grateful that I had such a great team.

How has your menu changed since opening?

I hope it’s gotten better. Dishes like the fried chicken thighs, crispy spaetzle, and the ribs — we’ve been doing those since day one. I think any really good restaurant starts building a pantry and curing meats, drying fish, making jams, and stuff like that. Now that we’re in the second year, we have those things that make our food even better and more complex. We have pickles that have been on cure since we opened. The challenge is to be busy as often as possible so we’re still creating these pantry items.

It’s been very good, and the people of Worcester have been very good to us. I try to push what we can do, and I even go shopping on my days off and visit farms. It’s fun, and I think we’re just getting started.

What have you learned since opening Deadhorse Hill?

Everyday is a learning experience for me. Our front-of-the-house staff is all new people, so watching them, learning their styles, and fusing it with the kitchen has been a learning experience. It all has to come together to make a great restaurant.

Did you think that you would get here from working in New York and in Boston? Did you ever think that you would own your own spot in Worcester?

Being in Worcester is not that different. It’s the second largest city in New England after Boston. I think in the restaurant world you spend so much time in the restaurant that it doesn’t matter. In our minds, we’re always in a New York or Boston-hectic atmosphere, and we don’t work like we’re in the middle of nowhere, so we don’t treat it like that.

Growing up in New York, did you think you’d end up in Massachusetts?

Absolutely not. I didn’t think I would get here from there. I grew up in Brooklyn, and that’s a completely different neighborhood now. Williamsburg and Greenpoint used to be Polish, and now it’s so hipster. When I think about Worcester, it reminds me of that part of Brooklyn I grew up in. This city was one of the places to be at the turn of the century, and you still see these cool structures and buildings in town. Bensonhurst used to be like that.

In New York things happen so fast, but in Worcester things slow down a little bit. We’re right at the center of it all, and I think we can have a bigger impact here.

What’s next for the Deadhorse Hill team?

We think about that all the time. We want to capitalize on the time and make sure everything is right, and we definitely don’t want to turn down any opportunity. When we’re ready to do the next thing we will. We check out different neighborhoods, and we entertain it all. It’s hard; people ask us about all sorts of stuff, but this is where we want to be right now.

deadhorse hill

281 Main Street, , MA 01608 (774) 420-7107 Visit Website
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