After 20 years of serving locals, tourists and a host of elite diners at The White Barn Inn, executive chef Jonathan Cartwright is leaving the five-star Relais & Chateaux inn in Kennebunk.

A well-known fixture on the Maine food scene, Cartwright is known for his calm demeanor, his sense of humor and the respectful way he treated staff and customers alike. His successor will be Derek Bissonnette, who first worked at the White Barn Inn in 1999 as a pastry chef, then returned in 2009 after stints at other fine dining restaurants to become executive sous chef.

“I’ve parted with the company,” Cartwright, who was feeling a bit emotional, said Thursday night from the luxury inn’s kitchen on his last night of dinner service. “We’re still very good friends. It was very much a business decision. Derek does a fantastic job. Now that I’m moving out of the way a little bit, he’s free to do more of his own stuff without listening to me. I think that’s good for the inn.”

Cartwright said he will spend some time consulting and traveling before deciding on his next move.

“That is the main thing,” Cartwright said, “to rest a little bit and and have a little time off, and after that I’m not sure, actually.”

He’s flying out Saturday for Vancouver to do a some consulting work for a friend and ride in the Axel Merckx Granfondo, a 100- mile cycling event that takes riders through the heart of British Columbia’s wine country. Cartwright is an avid cyclist and at one point took White Barn Inn guests on bike rides around the Kennebunks (along with a gourmet picnic, of course).


Cartwright was hired by the inn’s original owner, Laurence J. “Laurie” Bongiorno, who died of cancer in 2007. Under Cartwright’s guidance, in 1993 The White Barn Inn was chosen as the best resort restaurant in the world. In 2005, it earned another star from the Mobil Travel Guide, making it one of only 15 restaurants in the United States – and the only one north of Manhattan – to receive the five-star ranking.

The inn, which has been known for catering to celebrities and politicians, recently added a more casual seasonal bistro that will be now be open year-round, perhaps an attempt to capture younger clientele.

“We’ve been talking about how long can you keep going at one thing, and do you get affected and do you get stale, and of course you do get stale,” Cartwright said. “I’ve been fortunate the past few years to travel at lot with the company to their projects around the world . We’ve got a great stable of chefs. I think the team that’s here will continue to steer the ship, and I think set new horizons for what we’re doing and continue growing and doing the excellent work that we’ve always done.”

Justin Walker, executive chef at Earth in Kennebunkport, notes that at one time, before the take-off of Portland’s restaurant scene, The White Barn Inn and Arrows in Ogunquit were considered the best restaurants in Maine, the places people would go to for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

Walker, who used to be chef de cuisine at Arrows, recalled one night when Cartwright came in to dinner while the owners, chefs Mark Gaier and Clarke Frasier, were away. Afterward, Cartwright wrote them a an unsolicited note praising the work of Walker and his wife, who was a manager there.

“He’s just a really kind person,” Walker said. “Not a lot of chefs would do that.”

Cartwright is divorced and has two school-aged children, which, he says, means he will continue to have a presence in Maine. He said he’ll be back in a month to ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bike-a-thon across Massachusetts that raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He’ll be riding in memory of his old friend Laurie Bongiorno.

Cartwright said he’ll leave with many memories of The White Barn, but the one that came to mind on Thursday was preparing an amuse bouche for Barbara Bush’s 90th birthday party earlier in the week. He made a duck galantine with a baumkuchen (a traditional German pastry) wrapped around it, with a strawberry gastrique and strawberry granola.

“It was really, really, very, very special,” he said, “and it was a great way to end 20 years.”

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