Executive Chef Tony Duren is closing in on his one year anniversary with the Blue Lion Restaurant. Wrapping up his first winter in the role, he looks back on the past few months of cooking at a Jackson food icon.
Since 1978, the Blue Lion has established itself as a Jackson favorite. It has become reliable in its consistency of serving up classic comfort foods in hearty portions. Regular patrons have developed a passionate kinship with their favorite menu items.
Duren recalls running into a woman at the Browse ‘N Buy who adamantly declared that the chicken Frangelico best remain a menu staple. Another badgered him to explain himself for taking the risotto off the menu. Today, both appear on the current menu, along with the infamous roast rack of lamb. Duren promises the lamb will stay.
The items he has added give a nod to his history of cooking experiences, while he listens to the opinions and tastes of restaurant patrons. Try the scallops and avocado, the huckleberry buffalo tenderloin, or the potato chip encrusted sea bass. The huckleberry sauce comes from Duren’s days cooking in Montana, while the sea bass is a nod to his time spent cooking on an Alaskan yacht.
In the past year, Duren has used daily specials to test the boundaries of change at the Blue Lion. Most obviously, he has added more seafood to the menu. His lobster scampi is a nightly hit, as was the ramen special he did last summer; however, his pork chop and pancake with apple chutney was a miss. What could have been the next chicken and waffles was not well-received.
Taking the baton from head chef Tim Libassi would be a humbling task. Duren has been successful in this transition because of the respect he holds for Libassi, the Blue Lion’s reputation, and its customers. He considers Libassi to be both a mentor and hero, and isn’t afraid to call him with questions along the way. He wants to stay true to what customers have come to expect from the Blue Lion and its food, and deliver in a way that leaves them full and happy.
“I’m going to serve you too much food and it’s going to be good,” Duren promises. His current aims don’t include pushing the envelope to try to impress people. Rather, he wants guests to be able to read the menu and know what they’re eating. He wants the scope of your dining experience to exceed beyond the incredible food on your plate.
For many, upholding a legacy would be a daunting undertaking. For Chef Tony Duren, it’s a dream job.