Serenading Serenade’s Charity-Minded Chef

Chefs are among the most generous people on the planet, contributing time and talent to all manner of do-good projects. James Laird, co-owner with his wife, Nancy Sheridan Laird of Restaurant Serenade in Chatham, is an elite chef who has supported worthy causes in the state for decades.

On Tuesday, May 2, he will receive the Champion of the People Award from Family Connections, an East Orange-based nonprofit of 35 programs delivering counseling, training and prevention services to more than 4,000 individuals and families annually in the Essex County area.

At its Taste of NJ’s Best gala at the Westminster Hotel in Livingston, Laird will be honored for his work as a board member of StreetSquash Newark and his mentorship of young chefs at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

Chefs from more than 20 New Jersey restaurants will prepare dishes for the evening’s dine-around.

Participants include Blue Morel in Morristown, Fiorino Ristorante in Summit, Restaurant Latour at Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, Strip House in Livingston, the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville and Tree City Vodka Distillery in Kenilworth.

John Jansma, Serenade’s GM and sommelier and a winner of the Iron Shaker Award, will also be on hand.

“I’m teaming up with Tree City to create cocktails for the event using their vodka made from Jersey sweet corn,” he says. “It should be a lot of fun.”

Serenade, meanwhile, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

From the restaurant’s launch, Laird has been in the vanguard of culinary trends, including farm-to-table, ancient grains, gluten-free, and flavorful butterless, flourless and creamless dishes.

His contemporary American cuisine showcases hand-selected seasonal and regional ingredients in refined presentations and tasting menus complemented by an exemplary wine collection.

Spring has started sluggishly, but Jansma says Serenade’s first ramps and morels are in—the culinary equivalent of opening day in baseball—“and Jim says next week he’s got a lot of new things planned.”

Tickets to Taste of NJ’s Best gala range from $150 to $400 per person.  The event takes place from 6:30 to 9 pm. For details and to purchase tickets, visit

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