Shoni Jones, exec chef of Root Down at DIA, on the plate her line cook garnished with tears
This is part two of my interview with Shoni Jones, exec chef of Root Down at DIA; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
What do you enjoy most about your craft?
Making snacks for people to enjoy, connecting with local farmers and small-business owners, and creating a culinary community around me.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a chef?
The pressure I place upon myself to create a diverse but strong culinary team: making time for proper training, basic standards and expectations in the kitchen. The amount of time it takes to provide support and leadership can be challenging while simultaneously dealing with the sheer volume of guests we serve on a daily basis.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given?
When I was living in Mesilla, New Mexico, one of my good friends would have a cookout almost every weekend. One particular weekend, we ended up having a shindig at his parents' house, and when I walked into their kitchen, my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw an entire wall of antique collectible cast-iron skillets. When I started asking about them, my buddy's dad said, "Take your pick, darling." I chose an eight-inch, black cast-iron skillet that's still my go-to.
Favorite culinary-related item to give as a gift:
Two things: a bag of gummies, for when times get tough; and I also have an obsession for treasure-hunting for specific spoons used for plating and finishing. Sometimes that one specific spoon is perfect for a certain sauce, dish or plated ingredient. A spoon can easily become one of your favorite tools.
What's your fantasy splurge?
Without a doubt, it would be going on a world food-snacking adventure to Japan, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Germany and a whole lot of other places.
If you could have dinner, all expenses paid, at any restaurant in the world, where would you go?
Even though it's closed, it might just have to be elBulli, chef Ferran Adrià's restaurant in Spain. It would be such a pleasure to have my mind blown with the most scientific yet magical dining experience.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring chef?
You'd better love it and you'd better dream about it, because once you immerse yourself in this profession, it's literally blood, sweat and tears.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff?
Motivation, the willingness to accept criticism, passion -- and good taste in music doesn't hurt.
If you could train under any chef in the world, who would it be?
Chef Marco Pierre White back in the day. To sum it up, his passion, creative eye, attention to detail, intensity and focus are more than motivating.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open?
My gut instinct leads me to a restaurant based upon bread, meat and cheese. There are so many possibilities. If you really think about it, so many cultural snacks start with these three magical ingredients.