ROCKPORT — Jennifer Mantica, who recently joined Maine Media Workshops + College as chef, brings an ample supply of her own creativity to the table. A native of Albany, she earned her bachelor’s of professional studies in baking and pastry arts management at the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Mantica completed her externship at the celebrated Primo Restaurant in Rockland. “I came up to Maine to work with Primo. After I graduated, I returned and worked there for eight years. I started as a baker, worked on garde station in charge of cold and hot appetizers, and then I got trained on the pasta station,” she said. She also worked upstairs in the counter room, where locals flock when Primo offers premium Maine oysters at value prices.

“I got all of my savory cooking schooling from Melissa,” she added, referring to Chef Melissa Kelly, co-founder of Primo, who has been twice honored with a James Beard award as Best Chef in the Northeast, and has received several Outstanding Chef nominations from Beard, as well.

Following Primo, Mantica spent nine months helping to launch North Beacon Oyster in Rockland, as chef de cuisine. Eventually, she migrated to Nina June in Rockport Harbor. She began as sous chef and, after three years, left as chef de cuisine.

Mantica, 34, hails from a large Italian family and learned to cook from her mother. “My mom always baked, and so did her mom. We were always trying new recipes and cooking together. I love the artistry of baking and pastry with all the display pieces, and breads and chocolates. All holidays are focused around what we’re eating and who’s making what. It’s a big celebration.”

The chef wants to create that spirited sense of community through food at Maine Media Workshops + College, which reopened to on-campus programming this spring. During her first week at Maine Media, she organized menus by geographic region. Featured were a Middle Eastern themed dinner with roasted salmon and seven-spice roast chicken, and a rice and lentil dish with caramelized onions. Seasonings included sesame seeds, sumac, a Lebanese spice that is both savory and sweet, cinnamon and all spice. She did a shaved cabbage salad with lemon and cilantro, tahini and yogurt sauce. For dessert: Persian love cookies.

As the chef writes a new chapter in her culinary career at Maine Media, she observed, “I wanted a change. I love the restaurant business but I wanted to step away and work on my personal life a bit. Maine Media will offer me more freedom, in terms of time and hours. I’ll have weekends off. I was ready for a lifestyle change, kind of a reset,” said Mantica, about her decision.

Mantica was attracted by the creative vibe at Maine Media. “It seems fun and different, and I love how artsy it is,” she said. As she settles in, Mantica may even have time to reclaim her earlier interest in watercolor painting.

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