Part two: Oak Tavern's Jeremy Roosa dishes on monkfish liver, chef Morimoto and a chicken sandwich
This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Oak Tavern exec chef Jeremy Roosa. To read part one of that interview, click here.
Proudest moment as a chef: I'm always growing and learning, so I would like to think my proudest moment has yet to really happen. Looking back, it might be my first head-chef position, a special that sold out in record time, a new job at a great local restaurant or an amazing compliment a customer gave me. But now I'd have to say it was a simple request for a recipe that my grandmother asked me for years ago. Maybe that's a normal occurrence for a regular family, but not in my family. My Italian grandmother, who's over eighty, lost her husband and raised five daughters on her own. She's lived through breast cancer and a hurricane, is legally blind and doesn't take any crap from anyone, and I don't think I've ever seen her ask for help -- ever. So when she asked me for a recipe, it was a really big deal. Honestly, I've never ever been so flattered in all my life.
Best food city in America: New York and San Francisco. They have all the famous restaurants, and then there's that added benefit of having a friend who lives there who knows this hole-in-the-wall that's serving some dish you've never heard of. I recently took a vacation to San Francisco for seven days and went out for every lunch and dinner -- Chez Panisse, Gary Danko, the Slanted Door, Ame, and every hole-in-the-wall that my aunt said was amazing. It was the best vacation I ever had, period. Every city in America has a restaurant that will blow your mind, and if you get to know one of the locals, they'll always be up front and honest about recommendations.
Favorite music to cook by: Most kitchens don't allow music during service, especially if there's an open kitchen, because then you might be forced to listen to the tacky background music that the owner thinks provides great ambience. For me, music provides rhythm and flow -- the louder the better. Fortunately, my current kitchen is downstairs, and we rock it, although what's rocking really depends on my mood. I'm all over the place: Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Paul Oakenfold, Daft Punk, Weezer, Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, Radiohead, the Flaming Lips. I also let my crew bring in their own iPods, but I do hold the veto power. The other night the GM comes down the stairs, and it's crazy loud in the middle of the rush, and we're rocking it, playing some techno, and he jokingly says, "Where's the rave at? I just took ten pills!" He's a funny guy, and for me, it's all about having a good time in the kitchen.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Be on time. If you're scheduled to be at work at three, don't show up at three and then get changed into your uniform. Be ready to work with your mise en place at five minutes before three: It's called respect for your job. Always have a pen and Sharpie and a pad of paper to take notes; always have passion for what you're doing; listen, rather than interpret; always have fun; and always make your food with love. If it's not made with love, the customer can tell.
Favorite restaurant in America: Frasca. They orchestrate dinner service like a perfect symphony. I've never had a bad dish there and couldn't find one thing wrong with any part of their service. It's an absolute privilege to dine there.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: At my first fine-dining job, I knew nothing about technique because I never went to culinary school. My first shift was in the back kitchen, prepping and giving the line support, and I was asked to make one of the sauces. I read the recipe, which was just a list of ingredients with no method or instructions. So I threw everything in the pot and that was that. Two minutes later, the sous chef comes over and asks what the heck I'm doing, and when I tell him that I'm making the sauce, he tells me that I didn't sweat the veggies, that I didn't deglaze -- that I didn't do one thing right. I thought I was going to lose my job on the spot, but when I didn't, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing, so every day from there on out, I showed up three hours early and helped the chef/owner do whatever he needed before my shift -- asking as many questions as I could: Why this way? Why not this way? Within six months, he gave me a salary that was higher than most of the sous chefs in town, and at a certain point, when the chef wasn't there, I had the sous chefs asking me how the chef wanted dishes prepared and recipes finished. Sometimes it's good to realize you know nothing. Now I would like to say I know something.
Favorite dish to cook at home: I don't really cook at home. I cook for a living, so on my days off I like to go out and taste what everyone else in town is doing. I occasionally invite people over for a really great dinner party, but I would much rather dine at one of the fabulous establishments in our great city.
Favorite dish on your menu: Straight bourbon pulled-chicken sandwich. It's mesquite-smoked pulled chicken, smothered in our housemade bourbon barbecue sauce, topped with housemade coleslaw and some cut-to-order orange segments served on a locally made brioche bun with a side salad of torn (no knife damage) baby greens in our housemade honey-citrus-pesto vinaigrette. The chicken sandwich is a bit of legend around Oak Tavern.