A Yorktowne story comes full circle with return of chef Andrew Ernst

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Executive chef Andrew Ernst has a long history with the Yorktowne Hotel.

Ernst worked there for six years, from 2000 to 2006; met and married his wife Diana there; and now is returning to lead the food staff of the newly renovated York City landmark.

"You just learn things from everybody," Ernst said of his long career in food service. "I've been fortunate, I'm a local guy. I've stayed in Pennsylvania, my family's from here." 

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Ernst's resume includes roles as executive chef at the Wyndham Gettysburg — a post he held for 15 years — as well as a little over a year at the Eden Resort and Suites in Lancaster.

Indeed, Ernst was so busy with his former job that it was his wife who sent in the Yorktowne application for him.

As he cooks at the York College Center for Community Engagement — just across the street from the hotel, and chosen so Ernst can show off his skills — his passion and care for his art are obvious. The demonstration was held there as the Yorktowne awaits the arrival of the last few pieces of kitchen equipment, backed up by supply chain delays.

Ernst prepared butter-based prime rib and a seafood roast, as well as a spicy crab salad for photos and for tasting. 

"I try to be innovative, I try to take what I know and I try to bring it to the table," Ernst said of his cooking style. "I'm rooted in the history, I love the stories of dishes and things like that, trying to be true to them. But if I see something, I want to maybe play with it and see what I come up with." 

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For example, on the Yorktowne's dinner menu, one dish will be swordfish escabeche. That's a Spanish dish that's in a spicy sauce and colored with spices like pimentón. It's a type of paprika often known as Spanish paprika that Ernst found when he was on a culinary excursion in Spain.

One of the meat, potato, and veggies dishes Chef Andrew Ernst cooked up in York on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022.

Ernst said he doesn't have the typical background of a chef. While his grandmother Mary and mother Regina were great cooks, he enjoyed playing in the yard more than cooking when he was a child. It wasn't until after high school, as he watched cooking shows like "Great Chefs of the West," that he found his calling.

Regina signed him up for the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts, and Ernst  fell in love with cooking right away, he said. After his schooling and more time in Pittsburgh, he felt homesick and got a job as an entry-level cook at the Yorktowne.

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During his time at the Wyndham, Ernst was able to work with French chef Claude Rodier. From him, Ernst learned techniques that he still uses in the kitchen, like braising.

As for the kitchen at the Yorktowne, managing director Michael Blum said equipment is the only thing it's waiting on.

Ernst received high praise from Blum during his demonstration.

Chef Andrew Ernst cooking up cuisines in York on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022.

"He's very passionate about the project itself, having been there," Bum said of Ernst. Ernst has a reputation for being not only a good chef but also a good person, without any of the ego some chefs are stereotyped as having.

"Very humble," Blum said of the Yorktowne's new executive chef.

The Yorktowne is expected to open in November after a $54 million renovation project that's gone on for six years amid delays and increasing costs. 

Throughout his process, Ernst showed his knowledge and his skills. When asked what sort of food might be plated on a black plate for visual clarity, he mentioned saffron, hollandaise sauce and — yes — crudités.

"The sky's the limit," he said. "Anything to make it pop." 

People, Ernst said, eat with their eyes: "If their eyes get big when the plate is delivered to them, that's a good start." 

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright. 

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