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Birchwood chef's dad is his sous chef

ST. PETERSBURG

When Jason Cline was little, his bedroom was next to the room where his father, an electrician, made his work calls. To his friends, Jason would mimic his father's end of these conversations: "This is Kevin calling with a work order to put energy management on your air conditioner or water heater." ¶ As far as Jason was concerned, being an electrical project manager meant spending your days in sweltering attics or out in the hot Florida sun. He would do something different, eventually attending Johnson & Wales to learn to be a chef. ¶ His first Father's Day in culinary school, Jason smoked a brisket for his father. No one vividly recalls that meal, but Kevin does remember that the kitchen was a mess. He himself had administered Jason's first cooking lessons years before, regularly enlisting his young son's help in making sausages. ¶ Last spring, Kevin, 58, was offered a choice: He could move into a lower-paying electrical job or leave with a severance package. He took the severance. At that same time, Jason was gearing up to be the executive chef of the soon-to-open Birchwood Inn on St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront.

"Dad was mulling around what to do next," Jason, 36, said. "He had some leads in the same field, but he said, 'I'm sick and tired of this. Maybe you could find a place for me at the Birchwood.' The whole time, I thought he was just going through a crisis, but he kept harping on it."

A friend of Jason's was selling some Wusthof knives — a paring knife, an 8-inch chef's knife and a Japanese-style santoku knife. He bought them for his father.

"I picked up a 50-pound bag of carrots and came by with a note: You need to YouTube all these knife cuts — brunoise, julienne, macedoine. You need to know your knife cuts."

Jason's mother, Kimberly, a nurse in Largo, would call to report on his dad's progress. Dad won't stop talking about it. He has learned all the knife cuts.

Last May 2, the doors opened at the Birchwood, with Jason as executive chef and Kevin his employee, a different spin on father and son joined in the family business.

"I told him, 'I'm Chef and you're Kevin.' But sometimes I get excited and say, 'Hey, Dad.' "

Kevin is not new to professional kitchens. At age 15, he worked as a dishwasher and prep cook at Foit's Restaurant on Lake Erie in Buffalo, N.Y. Beef on weck, fish fries — dishes that are a far cry from the edgy New American fare son Jason is known for.

A year into this arrangement at the Birchwood, Kevin opens up in the morning, cooking breakfast for the hotel guests and then prepping for lunch, making the quiches, dressings and spring rolls. By most accounts, Kevin has made himself indispensable in the kitchen.

"He's become a rock star," Jason said, clearly proud. "He just went on vacation and people in the kitchen were asking, 'What are we going to do without Kevin?' "

Jason has taught his father a lot about working with contemporary tools of the trade, but he said his father taught him his work ethic: "Growing up, he'd go to work, then he'd come home and work more at the house. He taught me to do your job and do it right."

For Kevin, the benefits of the Birchwood job go beyond being the boss' dad.

"When I was in construction, I was working all the time. I'm a lot closer to him now."

The elder and younger Cline both have the day off this Father's Day. They plan to spend it on the family's boat.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

Birchwood chef's dad is his sous chef 06/09/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2014 4:45pm]
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