Jensen Cummings, exec chef of Row 14, on the one ingredient that tastes like "burnt toenails marinated in Kroger brand vegetable oil" and "nooders"
But Cummings shrugs that off. "Whenever a door shuts, opportunity awaits," he says, and it wasn't long before he found himself in the kitchen with Troy Guard, owner/chef of TAG. "TAG was still a shell at the time, but I liked the idea of staying downtown, and I loved the Asian influences in Troy's cooking, and I liked that his food was so playful," says Cummings, who was hired as a sous chef and promoted to chef de cuisine before he exited earlier this summer when Guard and his ex-wife and business partner, Leigh Sullivan, split.
"I left because I was initially part of building a family there, and then the family dynamic changed when Leigh and Troy had a parting of ways," explains Cummings, who now shares Row 14's kitchen space with several ex-TAG employees. "A lot of us disbanded and then banded back together here."
And Cummings says he couldn't be happier about his new home. "It's still a new-enough restaurant that it's not tarnished, and nothing was set in stone when I got here, and that was so enticing to me," he says. "And I love that I'm having such a good time and working with such great people.... I get to connect to people through food and get crazy with my fortune-cookie philosophies."
One of which, he notes, is "Take your time. Quickly."
In the following interview, Cummings sounds off on the one ingredient that tastes like "burnt toenails marinated in Kroger brand vegetable oil," eating pickled lamb's spleen at gunpoint, and "nooders."
Six words to describe your food: What the hell is he thinking? Once someone figures it out, they're usually pleasantly surprised. I want to give people simultaneous moments of comfort and apprehension.
Ten words to describe you: Unrelenting, intelligent, obnoxious, philosopher, leader, fixer, squinty, tall, connoisseur and happy.
Best recent food find: I'm embarrassed to say that I just recently tried the Village Cork for the first time. Samir, the chef, is a badass, but it was one of those places I just always blanked on when I was trying to figure out where to eat. Even worse is the fact that it's so damn close to my house. But I finally got there, and his black-truffle pâté is just ridiculous.
Favorite spice: Coriander. It's unassuming yet assertive, and with my Pangean approach to cooking, I love it because it's used in cultural foods from all over the world, from China to Morocco to Italy to America to Mexico to Argentina to the Land of Oz. These are all places where I hold the food in high regard, especially the Land of Oz.
Favorite ingredient: Salt, of course, but that's too fucking easy, so I'm going with Korean black garlic. It's a seemingly exotic ingredient, but in reality, it's subtle and elegant. People look at me like I'm crazy when I use it in a dish, but then the apprehension eases into moments of comfort.