Due to technical difficulties (like no internet connection all day Feb 11) we are delayed posting this biographical piece on Jim. The original was written a couple of years ago and has since been updated. We thought you might like to learn more about the person who makes that delicious food you eat on the WW Durant. And don’t forget to wish Chef Jim Happy Birthday, even if it is late!
People are always amazed at the quality of food that comes out of the tiny galley on the WW Durant. And the quantity! Some say it’s like a magician who just keeps pulling scarves out of his sleeve! Who is responsible for this magic act? Spotlight today is on Executive Chef Jim Pohl, Dean and Donna’s younger son and number three child.
James Dean Pohl, born February 11, 1981 in one of the warmest and snow free Februaries on record, was named for two hardworking fellas: Jim Bird and Dean Pohl. Hard to beat that kind of company if you know either one of those men! Jim was the only baby born in Raquette Lake that year so he was a kindergarten class of one- smartest kid in his class!
When Donna was hired to teach at Long Lake Central School the year following kindergarten in Raquette Lake School, Jim and his brother Bill and two sisters Rachel and Rebecca, continued their education at LLCS, where Jim completed grades one through 12. His class at Long Lake was one of the biggest in years- 19 in first grade. For comparison, Rachel’s class of ’96 consisted of six students!
Jim wasn’t particularly interested in book learning. He much preferred sports and being active. The Adirondacks is great country to grow up in if you like outdoor sports. He pitched for Little League, played soccer, tennis and basketball and skied and snowboarded at Big Tupper. He didn’t really get into hunting or fishing. One of our chefs, Dan Smith, taught him to juggle. He practiced with a vengeance. He went on to learn to ride a unicycle and then advanced to balancing heavy things on his chin- like chairs and ladders! These are all skills which are great conversation starters and chick magnets!
Summers during high school Jim worked back of the house for RLN, primarily dish dog and kitchen cleaning to begin with. Gradually, as our chefs took him under their wing, he learned prep cook skills. He had fun too- after all it was his summer vacation. Many of the RLN staff were his age so they hung out when not working.
Besides sports, Jim enjoyed travel. In his teens he spent a summer in Mexico learning Spanish. His senior class trip to Scotland was exciting, especially the memory of the haggis. “A Scottish dish consisting of a mixture of the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the slaughtered animal.” Yum!
After graduating from high school, and before enrolling at the Culinary Institute of America, Jim took a train trip across most of the southern and western United States, north to Vancouver. He was skittish at first about traveling alone, but he discovered it’s really easy for people to strike up a conversation or befriend a solo traveler. He was headed for Alaska but learned the only ferry left Prince Rupert once a week. He had met a guy on the train, from Prince Rupert, who was a commercial halibut fisherman and also owned a floating B&B. That guy offered him room and board during his 5 day wait for the next ferry crossing in exchange for splitting firewood and doing other chores.
Next phase in Jim’s life was his stint at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. His CIA externship was with Dickie Brennan’s team in New Orleans, which he loved. After graduation in 2003, he cooked in Las Vegas and Clearwater Beach, Florida. There were several winters when he and his sister Rachel would find jobs in some locale they had always wanted to visit and would spend the winter there, working and playing.
Living up to the legacy of the two men he’s named for (Jim Bird and Dean Pohl), Jim loves to work. You name it, he does it 125%, whether it’s cooking, planning a menu, ordering, cleaning, splitting wood, painting and scraping the Durant,gardening or being a husband and father.
2017 marks Jim’s 15th year as executive chef for Raquette Lake Navigation. He started working in the family-owned and operated business at age ten as a busser, then dishwasher, eventually migrating to the kitchen to wash pots and pans. He liked working back of the house; he enjoyed food prep. Our chefs during this period in his life responded to his interest in and knack for cooking and took him under their wing. Jim was hooked. He knew he wanted to go into the cheffing business. It was something he could do well and no way did he think he could ever rival his brother Bill in operating heavy equipment or doing mechanical work or his father in carpentry work. This was his niche.
With Jim at the helm as Executive Chef, the food served on the WW Durant has reached a whole other level. Dining guests rave about Jim’s food. We’ve also been able to expand our repertoire of cruises. We host themed parties such as Jimmy Buffet, Gilligan’s Island, and murder mysteries.
We schedule beer and wine tastings and pairings. All these different cruises require imagination and talent in planning the menus and collaboration with beverage manager Rachel Pohl to insure a total gustatory experience reflective of the event. Sure, it would be a lot less work to make the same menu items every day. But it would be a lot less fun and stimulating as well.
The summer of 2009 was momentous in Jim’s life. That’s the summer he met Elaine Corcoran (from Philadelphia). She came to work as a nanny for a family, also from Philly. The family camp being boat access only meant Elaine had to learn to drive a party barge and dock it, in all kinds of weather, with two little kids in tow! Melissa and Steve, her bosses, gave Elaine weekends off, but, not knowing anyone and not having a car, she needed something to do. She approached Donna about working on the boat Saturdays and Sundays. Not a problem! After dinner dishes were done on Saturday night she was to pilot Melissa’s & Steve’s party barge back to Brightside from the mainland, in the dark. “I was terrified driving back at night.” That’s when Jim came to the rescue. Jim, who has been boating on Raquette Lake all his life, offered to drive her home after Saturday night dishes. And that’s how their relationship began…… A boat ride, cool breezes,a beautiful starry night and the comfort of being chauffeured home on a dark night by a handsome guy.
When Melissa and Steve packed up and left for Philadelphia in August, 2009, Elaine stayed on through the Fall of 2009 and Winter of 2010. What a shock to her senses! “It went from summer fun to the dead of winter. I couldn’t believe how much winter there was.” That wasn’t the only shock. Elaine found out she was pregnant.
0-9-0-2-1-0. Another important date in Jim’s life- daughter Avery Mae was born.
On June 23, 2012 Jim and Elaine were married at St. Williams on Long Point with Jim’s father, Captain Dean, performing the ceremony. Steeped in history and tradition, St. Williams is a church built over 100 years ago by William West Durant. Boat access only, guests were ferried to the historic church on the WW Durant and afterwards, cruised the lake enjoying cocktails and appetizers. Elaine wanted her Philadelphia family and friends to experience the beauty of Raquette Lake and understand her own passion for place. Later everyone gathered at Great Camp Sagamore, the Alfred Vanderbilt estate for over 50 years, for dinner and dancing.
Jim has spent almost half his life working for Raquette Lake Navigation Co, his family’s business. He says he’s glad he made the decision to go into culinary arts but advises anyone considering the career choice, make sure you love what you’re doing. It’s not a 9 to 5 time commitment nor a 40 hour/week. On the horizon, looking to the future, he hopes to own his own business within five years. That is an ambitious goal and we wish him all the success. He sure has the talent and experience to achieve that dream.
Just so you don’t think the man does nothing but work……for fun he loves to be boating out on the lake with Elaine and Avery. They love to eat out. He loves his aquarium; clocks; drones; wildlife camera. In 2015 he joined the North Woods Masonic Lodge #849. Jim and Elaine have carved out a nice life here in Raquette Lake for their family. They can depend on the unfaltering support of Jim’s family who live year-round in Raquette Lake, as well as the encouragement and support of Elaine’s family who spend numerous holidays and vacations in Raquette Lake. Family is worth a lot!
It’s always inspiring to chronicle the life of a kid we’ve watched grow into manhood and do well. Stay tuned as we watch how the next few years unfold. Happy birthday Jim! May you thrive and be successful for many more birthdays!