New England chef Jasper White dies at age 69

A fan of simply prepared fresh seafood, the CIA grad was a pioneer in the American regional cuisine boom of the 1980s and an early proponent of "casualizing" fine dining.
White began his high-profile time in Boston at old-guard landmarks like The Parker House, but eventually moved to the far more casual Summer Shack. | Photo: Shutterstock

Jasper White, the celebrated New England chef who proved fine-dining and a relaxed, casual setting were not incompatible, has died at age 69.

The cause of his death was not revealed.

White was an influential figure in the Greater Boston culinary scene nearly from the time he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1976. After a journeyman’s tour through kitchens in New York, Florida and California, he ended up in 1979 in Boston, where he met fellow chef Lydia Shire.

The two were among the young chefs who proved regional American cuisine could hold its own against the best of Europe’s fine-dining scene. Like other members of that group, he and Shire were advocates for using local, seasonal ingredients to provide flavor, a challenge to the Euro-centric approach of relying on sauces.

The duo brought a fresh approach to the kitchens of celebrated old-guard Boston hotels like The Parker House, the Copley Plaza and the Bostonian, and the culinary world noticed.

White would go on to open his own fine-dining restaurant, Jasper’s, in Boston with his wife, Nancy. With a menu heavy with seafood, and lobster dishes in particular, it instantly became one of the highest-regarded dining establishments in the country, a reputation it enjoyed for all 12 years of its operation.

But White wanted a change, including an opportunity to spend more time with his family. He and his second wife, Kathleen, would have six children.

In 2000, he opened a downscale, less-frilly establishment in Cambridge called Jasper’s Summer Shack, a place where patrons could enjoy seasonal and local favorites like lobster rolls, chowders and shellfish on the half-shell in a relaxed setting. The move would presage a charge away from the formal white-tablecloth restaurants of Boston, New York and Philadelphia by other chefs of his generation.

Simultaneous with attempting to upgrade his own lifestyle, White broke from tradition in his employment policies. At a time when health insurance coverage for restaurant workers was an unheard-of benefit, he opted to provide that perk to his staff. In an interview, he expressed astonishment that the industry viewed his decision with disbelief, and suggested it was just a matter of time until other chef-operators would follow his lead. That surge never materialized.

Other Summer Shacks would follow. Simultaneously, White found success as a cookbook author.

He sold the Summer Shack group in 2017 to Lyons Group and stepped out of the business. Reports of ill health occasionally surfaced, but without extensive detail.

White would have turned 70 on May 28.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that White had six children with his first wife, Nancy. In fact, the other of those children was his second wife, Kathleen.

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