GAYS MILLS - There’s a buzz started about a new chef cooking lunch specials and more at J&Js on Main Street in Gays Mills.
There’s definitely something different going on at the local bar and grill these days thanks to the arrival of Anthony Horner earlier this summer. Yes, there’s still burgers, fries and the customary menu, but there’s a bit more these days–like a Greek chicken or beef souvlaki, stir fry teriyaki chicken made-to-order, tomato and vegetable pasta and much, much more. How about Tikka Masala, a braised pork Indian curry, or beef Stroganoff featuring caramelized onions, seared mushrooms and garlic
So, who is this chef and how did he wind up cooking at J&Js this summer? It’s an unlikely, but fortuitous story, for owners Justina and John LaLande.
Anthony Horner has been a chef on high-end, super yachts for the past few years. In all, he’s cooked on five different vessels alternating with some restaurant gigs.
Turns out, he had just got started on his latest yacht assignment in the Caribbean earlier this summer, when the whole thing was terminated because of the international threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. The yacht terminated its cruise early in Antigua and headed back to port in Florida. After getting through the Coast Guard’s hesitancy to let the boat back into its port, the crew was taken off and spent a couple of months waiting to see if the season would resume before finally being flown home.
Home to Anthony is actually Southwest Wisconsin, although he’s spent a lot of the last few years abroad far away from home.
Anthony Horner was born and raised in Prairie du Chien, where he attended high school and spent time fooling around on the Mississippi River. He attended college at UW-Stevens Point, where he majored in philosophy.
While in college, Anthony took a year abroad in France where he learned the language. He also worked at a local organic restaurant in Stevens Point, while going to school.
Upon graduation, he began working at an upscale restaurant in nearby Plover–Christian's Bistro. Cooking engaged him and he began to learn more and more about the techniques. He even went so far as to obtain some pans and utensils and practice at home.
It wasn’t long before he had enrolled at Gastronomicom, then a new cooking school in the south of France. He took classes for three months and interned for another seven months at a restaurant.
Because he was fluent in French, he skipped the normally required language class and doubled down on the cooking classes. In addition to learning to be a chef, Anthony learned pastry and savory cuisine.
Yes, there are also some very good desserts available at J&Js.
With his visa running out and his funds exhausting, he talked things over with a fellow chef at a restaurant. She advised him to try cooking as a chef on yachts.
Anthony followed the advice. He took a weeklong seafarers course designed to teach employees of maritime vessels the rudimentary skills of maritime employment, safety, first aid and the like.
With his seafarers certification and his resume, he found himself hired to work on a yacht owned by a wealthy Israeli woman and his career as a yacht chef had begun in Greece.
Anthony quickly learned about the highly personalized service provided to the owner and guests. For every arrival of the owner, the yacht was readied and the staff was briefed on who the guests would be.
Over several assignments, Anthony has crossed the Atlantic twice in yachts that were not more than 300-feet long.
When he was furloughed from his last assignment in the Caribbean, he was working on a 175-foot sailing yacht, the Columbia.
The boat was built following the design plans of a famous fishing schooner that was known as one of the fastest boats in North America in the early 1900s.
The original boat sank off the coast of Nova Scotia in massive storm in 1927 with four other vessels. A Florida shipyard owner built a nearly exact replica of the original vessel from the blueprints and called it the Columbia. A major change to the plans was use of a steel hull instead of a wooden hull.
Anthony laughed to describe his cooking assignment on the Columbia.
“It's a lot more difficult cooking on a sailing yacht,” he explained “You might have too cook standing at a 20-degree angle.”
Another yacht assignment was on the Odyssey, a motorized yacht, working with a crew of 26 on a vessel 212-feet long that could also accommodate 12 guests.
By contrast the Columbia had a crew of eight and could accommodate eight guests.
So what’s it like being a chef on yacht?
“It’s really good because you’re working as a solo chef,” Anthony explained. “You have more control over what you’re going to do.
“That’s actually its downfall as well,” he readily acknowledged. “You’re working alone. There’s no dishwasher, no cooks under you–just you.”
Anthony went on to describe trying to do dishes in rough seas, while being tossed around. Difficult yes, but the gleam in his eye tells you he actually liked it quite a bit.
Nevertheless, the 28-year-old Horner seems glad to be back in rural Southwest Wisconsin. He currently is staying at his mother’s house in rural Soldiers Gove, while looking to get a cabin of his own for a home base. He still wants to travel, but for now he’s cooking at J&Js Tuesday through Saturday, lunch specials run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He also does the Friday fish fry and yes, he tweaked the batter on the cod. A local favorite is the chef’s unique mac & cheese.
There’s also Taco Tuesday with $3 tacos served with freshly made Pico de Gallo and lots of good fresh ingredients,
Then, there are the desserts including strawberry shortcake, chocolate brownies and cheesecake.
It’s not just the customers that are happy to see Anthony cooking on Main Street in Gays Mills. J&J owner Justina LaLande is enjoying the turn of events as well.
“The comments have all been positive,” LaLande said of her customers’ reactions to Anthony’s food. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback on having him here cooking.”
Lalande said the daily specials in particular are generating a lot interest.
“There’s a lot of people talking about it,” she said.
Justina is also happy working with Anthony.
“It’s great having him here,” she said. “He’s fun and he’s enthusiastic.”Justina LaLande’s favorite Anthony offering is the cranberry walnut salad.
When you watch Anthony Horner cook you see three things immediately–he’s got experience in the kitchen, he loves the work and he understands food. And you know somehow that’s going to be the case whether he’s working on a yacht in the Mediterranean or J&Js on Main Street in Gays Mills.