Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Courtney McFarlane is Master of the Fire

The Tessaro's grill master found a home in the restaurant's kitchen in 1987.




photo by laura petrilla

 

Courtney McFarlane has, over the years, honed his grilling technique to a point most of us would consider perfection. He repeatedly weighs 10 ounces of ground beef by feel, without the help of a kitchen scale. He fires, tracks and pulls 75 hamburgers in an hour. He keeps a hardwood fire smoldering at just the right temperature for 12 hours straight. He does it day after day, nearly every day, just as he has for more than two decades.

“You have to be very organized. And you have to have a very good memory of what you have on the grill. You have to know how to multitask,” he says.

McFarlane, 51, is grill master at Tessaro’s in Bloomfield, a position he’s held since 1998; he started working at the restaurant in 1987.

McFarlane emigrated from Discovery Bay, Jamaica, when he was 19, following the rest of his family, who had moved to Pittsburgh two years earlier. McFarlane learned about a job opening at the restaurant from his mother and took a position as the restaurant’s dishwasher. Although he was studying at Connelley Technical Institute at the time, he never ended up leaving Tessaro’s — the iconic Pittsburgh establishment is the only place he’s ever held a full-time position.

Tee Harrington, matriarch of the family that purchased Tessaro’s in 1985, took a shine to McFarlane, as did her son Kelly Harrington. They moved him up the ranks to prep cook, salad prep and kitchen assistant. In 1992, he moved to the grill, working under the tutelage of grill cook Mark Benz.

“There was no room for error. It wasn’t easy. I made a lot of mistakes. But I looked at Kelly and thought, ‘I don’t want to let this guy down.’ You get it together, real quick,” McFarlane says.

McFarlane also had another goal in mind: “I wanted to become just as good as Mark. Or even better.”

The two worked alongside Benz’s sister, Helen, for about six years. McFarlane says it took him nearly that long to feel close to having a mastery of Tessaro’s Bloomfield-forged cast-iron grill. When both Benz siblings left in 1998, McFarlane was ready to take charge as the restaurant’s sole grill master.

By all accounts, McFarlane has achieved his goals. He can read several moves ahead when presented a row of tickets, organizing the 3-foot-by-2-foot grill so that he can monitor the various degrees of doneness of the burgers. He instinctively knows just when to flip a patty — and, he says, more importantly, when not to. “Don’t keep flipping it. Let it sit, let it cook. The heat has to dissipate through the meat.”

McFarlane embraces the virtuosity of repetitiveness that comes with his grill master title. Occasionally, however, there are new challenges. The restaurant has over the years expanded — what once was a 13-table, 50-seat operation now seats 99 people. The kitchen didn’t grow with the restaurant, but, last year, McFarlane took a cue from backyard gas grills and added a second cast-iron rack above the original grates.

He also is passing on the zen of the grill to anyone who cycles through his kitchen, setting an example by following advice he’s honed in on after cooking thousands of hamburgers over a hardwood fire in the Bloomfield kitchen:

“I tell upcoming cooks that if you get frustrated or get upset, everything is going to be a big mess. Keep your cool, because, no matter what, it’s going to happen. Focus on what you’re doing and do it well,” he says.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Thanks to wide receivers recognized for their blocking ability and an offensive line endearingly referred to as “knuckleheads“ –– the Panthers are one win away from making their head coach's bold pre-season prediction a reality.

Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Two Oakland restaurants now have shorter hours and a chef moves from Downtown to Lawrenceville.

What Unites Us In the Wake of the Tree of Life Tragedy

We asked local faith leaders for their response to the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill –– and how we can come together and more forward as a community.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Review: Molinaro Ristorante

Ron Molinaro's Downtown restaurant offers high-end Italian dishes made with top-notch ingredients, but is it worth the price premium?

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2018 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine highlights the unsung heroes of the health care field: our Excellence in Nursing honorees, chosen by our panel of distinguished judges in the field.

Nursing Shortage in Pittsburgh Calls for Creative Solutions

RetuRN to Practice entices retired nurses back Into the field.

Fine Art Meets High Fashion at the Carnegie International

With the Carnegie International as the backdrop, we feature work by local fashion designer Elaine Healey, who has been morphing from luxury womenswear to a more “non-binary” style.

The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

While Harry Potter diehards will find more than enough sustenance in the sequel, non-devotees may have a rough time following the action.

Pittsburgh's Tomorrow – What We Need in the Future

As the year comes to a close, we look forward to what Pittsburgh can be –– and what we'd like to see change –– in the coming years.

How to Shop Like a Pro for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

Our guide to produce, pastries, libations and more will help your table brim with tasty treats from Pittsburgh-area businesses.

Drink Like the French on Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Why and where to celebrate on Thursday, which marks the annual release of the young wine.

‘X’ Marks the Spot for This Wedding Scavenger Hunt

She thought she was going on a simple scavenger hunt. She never dreamed it would end with a wedding.

Pittsburgh Just Dodged the Amazon Bullet

We should be relieved that the tech giant opted not to move in.

It's Official: Amazon HQ2 is Not Coming to Pittsburgh

Instead of one city, the giant retailer is splitting its second headquarters between northern Virginia and New York City.

Schoolhouse Electric Brings Hip Lighting, Coffee, to Pittsburgh

The Portland, Ore-based lighting and furnishings store, which shares space with a high-end coffeehouse from the team behind The Vandal restaurant, is located in East Liberty's Detective Building.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Pittsburgh Just Dodged the Amazon Bullet

Pittsburgh Just Dodged the Amazon Bullet

We should be relieved that the tech giant opted not to move in.

Comments

It's Official: Amazon HQ2 is Not Coming to Pittsburgh

It's Official: Amazon HQ2 is Not Coming to Pittsburgh

Instead of one city, the giant retailer is splitting its second headquarters between northern Virginia and New York City.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Two Oakland restaurants now have shorter hours and a chef moves from Downtown to Lawrenceville.

Comments

How to Shop Like a Pro for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

How to Shop Like a Pro for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

Our guide to produce, pastries, libations and more will help your table brim with tasty treats from Pittsburgh-area businesses.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

We dove into the local artisan bread scene to find the best places that bake naturally leavened bread in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Five Essential November Events in Pittsburgh

Five Essential November Events in Pittsburgh

Avian art, altruistic alt-rock and more November nights.

Comments

Ten Prohibited Pittsburgh Halloween Costumes

Ten Prohibited Pittsburgh Halloween Costumes

Locally-inspired Halloween costumes that you should, under absolutely no circumstances, attempt to wear.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Thanks to wide receivers recognized for their blocking ability and an offensive line endearingly referred to as “knuckleheads“ –– the Panthers are one win away from making their head coach's bold pre-season prediction a reality.

Comments

Steelers Have Changed the Narrative in Dramatic Fashion

Steelers Have Changed the Narrative in Dramatic Fashion

A defense that was groping to accomplish the simplest of tasks has started to dominate. The offense has stopped getting in its own way and started exploding scoreboards.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

While Harry Potter diehards will find more than enough sustenance in the sequel, non-devotees may have a rough time following the action.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The 400-Word Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Coen Brothers' western anthology is less than the sum of its parts, but it boasts some great tales.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
‘X’ Marks the Spot for This Wedding Scavenger Hunt

‘X’ Marks the Spot for This Wedding Scavenger Hunt

She thought she was going on a simple scavenger hunt. She never dreamed it would end with a wedding.

Comments

A Tale of Two Weddings

A Tale of Two Weddings

In a theatrical performance set to stun audiences for years to come, this Pittsburgh couple took on two weddings — one featuring a mayor, a movie trailer and a secret marriage.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Schoolhouse Electric Brings Hip Lighting, Coffee, to Pittsburgh

Schoolhouse Electric Brings Hip Lighting, Coffee, to Pittsburgh

The Portland, Ore-based lighting and furnishings store, which shares space with a high-end coffeehouse from the team behind The Vandal restaurant, is located in East Liberty's Detective Building.

Comments

Own a Piece of the Allegheny County Courthouse With New Gift Line

Own a Piece of the Allegheny County Courthouse With New Gift Line

Wendell August Forge is turning the century-old terracotta roof tiles into a line of collectible itms that include wall hangings and beer flight carriers.

Comments