New executive chef brings fresh vibe to Lantern Hill

Justin Pearsall is passionate about creating an exceptional dining experience

Created date

March 20th, 2019
Lantern Hill Executive Chef Justin Pearsall and his team offer creative menus for a variety of tastes and preferences.

Lantern Hill Executive Chef Justin Pearsall and his team offer creative menus for a variety of tastes and preferences.

Lantern Hill, an Erickson Living community in New Providence, N.J., has a new executive chef, and the word around town is he’s imaginative and creative when it comes to food. 

Executive Chef Justin Pearsall juxtaposes elegant dishes like Chilean seabass and scallops with homestyle meals such as stuffed peppers and stews on the menus of Lantern Hill’s two sit-down restaurants, Chef’s Table and Tall Oaks.

“We can go as high end or as family-friendly as you want,” Pearsall says. “Because of where we’re located, just outside of New York City, and the dining experience our residents expect, we offer a creative menu for a variety of tastes and preferences.”

Thanks to his team of talented chefs and Lantern Hill’s dining services model, Signature Dining, they can do just that.

Revolutionizing community dining

“Signature Dining embraces fresh, made-to-order, resident-focused menu offerings, executed at the moment of service to deliver an exceptional dining experience,” says Dining Services Director Jason Fernandi. “Signature Dining empowers our chefs to cook with more creativity and meet any special dietary needs or requests.”

With more and more people facing dietary restrictions such as gluten sensitivity or those who choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, Pearsall says that, “because we cook from scratch, we have the ability to change a recipe on the fly to meet someone’s specific needs.”

When it comes to overall customer satisfaction, Pearsall puts the dining experience at a high priority, and he goes straight to the source to find out how to continuously improve.

Resident dining committee chairman and former Scotch Plains Mayor Gabe Spera says that Pearsall has been a wonderful addition to the community. Gabe’s committee meets regularly with Pearsall and Fernandi to relay fellow neighbors’ comments and suggestions, critiques and praise.

As a result, “We have quality food, quality chefs, well trained servers, and a varied menu,” Gabe explains.

From one foodie to another

When asked his favorite dish, Gabe recommends the steak, veal chop, scallops, and spare ribs. And while he enjoys being able to dine out any night of the week and trade cooking and cleaning up for a great meal with friends, he also uses his own kitchen quite often.

“Food is my passion,” Gabe says. “All the publications that I read are about food. And I’m a fairly good cook. I like to cook just about anything. Seafood dishes like a bouillabaisse, meatballs, stew, rigatoni. The kitchen in my apartment is all I need. What makes my kitchen different is my set of knives, my set of china, and stemware.”

He and Pearsall have similar views on food. They both see it as more than nutrition; it’s a way of living.

“Food is such a big part of family and community, and that’s the biggest thing we strive for at Lantern Hill,” Pearsall says. “We want people to have quality meals where they can sit around and have conversations with friends and family. At the end of the day, food brings people together.”

Food circle

Pearsall has been cooking for nearly 20 years. Like many chefs, he started off as a dishwasher and prep cook in traditional restaurants. That’s where he first met Phil Maloney, now corporate executive chef for Erickson Living, who helped Pearsall hone his culinary skills. He spent the majority of his career, 15 years, as a chef for Morrison Community Living in Virginia Beach, Va.

When Pearsall wanted to advance his career, he turned to his mentor. At Maloney’s recommendation, Pearsall first joined the dining services team at Maris Grove, the Erickson Living community in Delaware County, Pa., then transferred to Lantern Hill last October when Chef’s Table—the community’s principal dining venue—reopened after renovations.

“At Erickson Living, I saw more potential to advance. That’s the biggest plus for people in this business. The opportunity for advancement is almost always there if you do your job well. Also, you can enjoy a career where you can be of service to the people who live at our communities.”

Pearsall says he gets the most satisfaction from mentoring chefs, just as his mentor did for him. “The culture that’s created here is a culture I want to work in,” Pearsall says. “Erickson Living is big on supporting and building their staff, promoting and training from within. Everything that Erickson does speaks about planning for the future. That’s a big deal for people like me in this industry.”