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Chef Ryan McQuillan holds his wood-fired margherita pizza, left, and watermelon and heirloom tomato salad inside The Exchange at the Lancaster Marriott.

Chef Ryan McQuillan took a brief detour into studying history after high school.

But his heart has been in cooking since he started cooking in a restaurant when he was a teenager.

McQuillan, 32, is the executive chef at the Lancaster Marriott’s new rooftop bar and eatery, The Exchange.

He’s also developing his menu for Plough, the first-floor eatery at the Marriott that’s targeting early August for its opening.

McQuillan fell in love with the food business early.

Growing up in northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County, McQuillan was 15 years old when he was hired by the regional McCaffrey’s Food Market chain.

“My friends were all on the cash registers,” he says, “but they put me in the ‘back of the house,’ ” making potato salad and rotisserie chickens.

“I worked at a local restaurant called the Yardley Inn throughout high school,” McQuillan says. “I was a line cook there.

“It was just seeing the energy in the kitchen,” McQuillan says, and having the chef there as a mentor that made him love his job.

He also loved working with others to develop dishes.

After graduating from high school, “I made a mistake and went to school for history for a year, and then immediately left” for the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, he says.

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Chef Ryan McQuillan, right, and beverage director Frank Fontaine stand on the patio at The Exchange rooftop bar and eatery, at the Lancaster Marriott. 

Developing a menu

McQuillan, who lives in Berks County with his wife Nicole (a Reading-area native) and their two children, comes to Lancaster from Porch & Proper, an American-cuisine eatery located in a historic house in Collingswood, New Jersey. He also previously worked at Talula’s Table in Kennett Square, a small farm-to-table restaurant featuring a tasting menu.

He’s been developing menus for the two different concepts driving The Exchange and Plough.

“For The Exchange, we’re more small-plate driven,” McQuillan says. “It’s seasonal, local, shareable items. We’re seeing what (ingredients) we can get from the area and based around a wood fire and then we have our grill. That’s the concept ... so we’re just going to build on that.

“It’s creating more appetizers — it’s more creative, more eclectic, if you will. It’s a little more global,” he says. “We’re taking inspiration from Japanese-style food and Italian-style food.

“Plough is more classic, French-style technique with American ingredients,” he says.

By night, McQuillan has been serving up everything from tuna crudo to Dijon mussels, and from crispy tofu and hummus lamb merguez wrap and wood-fired pizzas out of his open kitchen at The Exchange.

By day, he has been working with Concentrics Restaurants, a restaurant consulting firm from Atlanta, to develop the future menu for Plough.

“Every day, we’ve been doing tastings in the morning,” McQuillan says. “We’ve been working on the Plough menu for about three months.”

Plough will be “more like an American-style, seasonal brasserie — upscale casual,” McQuillan says. “It’s going to be an open-kitchen concept. We have a nice rotisserie oven coming in from France. That’s going to be on display.

“We have really good local Green Circle chickens from the area that we’ll be working with, so we’re going to do a couple of different dishes based off that,” McQuillan says.

Green Circle, he says, “is a Lancaster County bird that’s a fully sustainable bird.”

“It’s been a crazy, fun two weeks opening (The Exchange), and now we’re looking forward to opening the new restaurant,” he says.