Monday morning and here we are. Gathered atop Blacksheep’s rooftop bar, drink in hand, somehow feeling like the sun should be down given the circumstances. We are about to take some shots … warm Fireball shots. How did we get the chefs to agree to this? Because Mondays are commonly known as a chef’s day off, and everyone likes free drinks. Right?
Only a few minutes pass before I walk behind the vacant bar and grab glassware. My hand felt a tad heavy this day as I poured everyone shot No. 1. A couple laughs, a raunchy toast, a cheers to Void, and then it’s down the hatch. Here we go.
After Shot No. 1
Let’s be real, everyone at the round table is not new to the “drinking at noon” game. It was not long before the sorghum rum started flowing, for which Chason from Hoptinger had no apologies.
Want to know what a bunch of chefs talk about after a couple drinks? Food, of course. It’s as though everyone’s chef’s coat was hanging out with us. Some casual laughs with Jon Insetta, the owner of Restaurant Orsay, follow a conversation about the history of blood sausage. While Calli jokes about her job title at Brew Five Points, Nosh Queen, a few chefs begin to reminisce about the shenanigans of culinary school. Before everyone started getting too serious, I took the lid off the Fireball once again … SHOTS.
After Shot No. 2
Keep in mind this is a long table of chefs; a handful of the best in Jacksonville. Something that is not surprising is that everyone knew who each other was, in some form. I talked to them about their first jobs. All of the chefs are products of entry-level restaurant positions.
When I awkwardly spouted out the first round table question, they were all a few drinks deep. A combination of whiskey gingers, wheat ales and, of course, the Fireball and homemade rum. The conversation happened upon the choice of becoming a chef. Trey Hartinger from Marker 32 told a fun story about a chef at his first job, Gene’s Seafood, who had a rat tail, and he still turned all the women on.
“They could just turn the girls on,” he claimed. Hilariously enough, the rest of the chefs had similar stories. It was about the lifestyle, not just the food, which drew them further into the kitchen. The ladies were the spark, but it was apparent from the conversation that followed that the life of a chef is more driven by the desire to please the palate.
This led us to what it takes to run a kitchen. A bunch of people crammed into one place, cranking out top-notch cuisine for hours on end. That has to be tough, right? Everyone seemed to have some sort of method to organizing the madness.
Chason explained how everyone realizes it is never personal, “… at least the quality chefs, anyway.” Waylon claimed that you have to pick your moments to be stern, and Jason followed that with, “Yeah. And at the end of the day, we have to hit the reset button, because you do not want to come in the next day pissed at the people next to you.”
They all agree for a moment that yelling isn’t usually necessary, then from the end of a table you hear a laugh and, “Yeah, but elevated volume is definitely necessary sometimes.” That was Trey. I had grown to love his quick quips by the third shot of sun-baked Fireball.
Drinks Are Done. Another Round Please.
This is when the chefs broke off into a conversation about egg yolks and cooking up brunch. Ian mentioned that he found one of the best chefs working at a Waffle House.
“With a phone on his shoulder he managed to crack about 20 eggs into a bowl and then spoon them onto a griddle without breaking a single one. While the waitress yelled at him he repeated an order back to her just to shut her up. I wanted to hire him.” I tried to track down the Waffle House chef in question, but simply got no returned calls.
The conversation lead us to their favorite cities to eat their way through.
Jason is partial to Baltimore. He informed me that the seafood is just too great, “They use Old Bay on everything.” Waylon, as well as every other chef at the table, tries to eat his way through New York and San Francisco. “It is like, whenever I go, I always eat somewhere I haven’t been, and I still struggle to eat everywhere that I want.” Calli has an affinity for Austin. But hold the phone, because once Montreal and other parts of Canada were mentioned, everyone went nuts. They talked for a good five minutes about Joe Beef and how if they haven’t been already, then a trip was soon to be planned.
All of the talk about traveling and eating in other places led to a pretty heated discussion about Yelp.
Calli sighed, “Are we talking about Yelp? Can I leave the table?” It’s true that no one likes negative reviews, but the one thing that every chef stressed is the need to please. That’s all they want to do! Chason insisted that, “They could have sent it back and we would have fixed it on the spot. No problem. Instead people leave and write about it after they have already accepted it.” So, there you have it, if you aren’t pleased but fail to mention it to Ian or Trey, be a gem and leave the passive aggressive Yelp reviews in your mind.
Do we need more drinks?
Dean you have to be at work in 15 minutes … as for the rest of us.
We started talking about collaboration between chefs in Jacksonville. This piqued my interest.
Calli said, “We would all be nothings without collaboration. Like the number of menus that Chason and I have sent each other is insane. I always think to myself, ‘What would I want to serve Ian? What would I want to serve Waylon?’” This is followed by Jason, who added, “Yeah. Like even if we don’t know each other directly, we follow each other on social media. It is always cool to see everyone push the limit. It encourages me to push the limit.”
This subject made everyone emotional. Especially when it came to talking about their favorite restaurant in Jacksonville — 13 Gypsies.
Not only was Chef Howard mentioned three times in background conversation, he was the forefront of the conversation on collaboration. Every chef loved what he’s doing in his little corner of Stockton. The record doesn’t lie, Howard is the s**t. We definitely poured one out for him.
I made them drink some more, and the Fireball was now gone as we worked our way through the sorghum rum.
What would you eat as your last meal on death row? Booze.
Trey: “Just booze. No, but seriously, probably my mom’s potato soup. I don’t know what the hell she made out of it. But it would always be like a bar. A vat of the soup with like some bacon bits and cheddar cheese.”
Chason: “I would have a bowl of rice, ceviche and a shot of Chartreuse.”
Ian: “Yeah. I’ll take a bottle of Chartreuse”
Waylon: “Fried chicken, white rice and some Bulleit rye.”
Then they all talked about rice, and how MSG is the sh*t. Whatever tastes good, right?
We had some serious conversation, sprinkled with moments where the liquor definitely did the talking, but most of all they laughed and shared stories. The chef’s mostly explained how they crave supplying the best experience with the best flavors for every guest that comes in … and this is after four shots and numerous drinks. There was a passion in each set of eyes around the table. Slightly glassy with whiskey, nevertheless, completely sure and composed. It’s the type of surety in career choice that would make anyone want to pack up and head to culinary school.
What I learned at noon atop that roof can barely be conveyed in one article. For one, I learned to not even attempt to drink on par with a chef. They taught me that some lessons in life involve a couple of burns, and that browned butter is the best butter. But most importantly, I learned that Jacksonville’s taste buds are in great hands. Cheers guys!