Keeping up with Jones

Chris J Jones CEC is the executive chef and F&B director at The Old Collier Golf Club in Naples Florida, USA. One of the highlight speakers on the FCSI 2013 Trends panel at this year’s NAFEM 2013, he told Michael Jones his views on food fads, social media and his favourite pieces of kitchen kit

Why do you believe that ‘farm to table’, ‘sea to spoon’ and ‘pasture to plate’ are old news? Is it the concept or are you just sick of faddish labelling of food trends?

The bigger question is “What is farm to table”? It’s absurd that we use this as a marketing tool to put butts on seats. You can’t say “big ag to table” can you? It’s not really a romantic notion (although there is more truth to that than the other.) But I suppose any awareness is good awareness. The bottom line is that the best chefs source their food with great care and consideration. And that usually means supporting smaller farms, fishers and foragers. The consumer already knows this and expects this. And in all sincerity, hats off to the all the folks who grow, raise and forage amazing food for not a lot of money. That’s another ridiculous part of the discussion.

Tell us about your renewed interest in charcuterie.

I was a steady practitioner 15 years ago, but jobs change and the needs of the jobs change. I’m not sure I have an audience now, but it is a craft that I love and I could be much better at. We are getting these really great heritage hogs now… the whole animal and usually one or two at a time, so it behoves us to make something delicious and saleable out of the whole animal. It’s a fantastic hobby in our kitchen that teaches young cooks respect and pure craftsmanship.

To quote you, why will “the constant pursuit of craftsmanship drive the cuisine bus”?

I think everyone knows one famous chef’s quote “we buy stuff, fix it up and sell it for a profit” [Mario Batali]. You can’t do that without craftsmanship and all that is new in food is coming from craftsmanship as well. Technology, the science of cooking and our better understanding is making us better craftsmen/women. Combine that with chefs who are hungry to feed their curiosity and the willingness for chefs to share… we are moving forward at a good clip.

You mentioned at NAFEM 2013 that modern chefs should “give authenticity the bird”. What did you mean by that?

Just make delicious food and don’t worry about whatever the “rules” are. We get hung up on what the customer believes is the way we should be cooking. The only way to escape that is to cook food you want to eat, and market yourself and your food. Food can be authentic (whatever that means) and delicious, but also can be original, soulful and inspired… and tasty as hell! What seems like a burden or an obstacle in cooking and selling the food we cook is generational and we are getting closer to the bridging that gap. And for the record… I never said I dislike authenticity. Without origin, we are nowhere.

What can your profession learn by working as a community? How is social media helping chefs?

To me, it’s all good. FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram are fantastic ways to get yourself out there, share ideas and become inspired. Collaborative dinners, pop-ups, guest chefs and the like are very popular now and we all benefit from working together. The bottom line for me is that it is just fun. I walk out of very restaurant and/or kitchen with something that made me curious.

You’re a chef renowned for getting the best out of your kitchen equipment (liquid nitrogen, induction cookers, controlled vapour technology, combi ovens, blast chillers, etc). Are you a technophile?

Avid! Probably a bit of a geek that way. It is results driven. I am all for the best results, efficiency, and making money!

What’s your favourite piece of kit and why?

The blast chiller/shock freezer. The model I use is Irinox MF. It low temperature cooks as well. Crazy! I can braise short ribs and chill them rapidly all while I am at home sleeping! The applications seem endless. Don’t know what I would do without one in my kitchen now. Why don’t we think about chilling and freezing as much as we do heating? It is too important and integral in cooking to exclude it from the equation.

How conscious are you of leaving a smaller footprint. Is it something you have to do, something you want to do, or both?

Both. Kitchens are getting smaller, leaving more square footage to generate income. It boils down to economics. I know sustainability, carbon footprint, energy efficiency and the like should be at the top of the list, but I am just being real. They are definitely a close second and part of the trickle down.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

Meeting great people and connecting great people. And eating. And drinking.

Of what single achievement are you proudest in your career?

Back in Canada I had several apprentices. They are all highly successful chefs now. Some are rock stars. They made me better back in the day when we were all just babies and hopefully I influenced them a little.

What interests away from the kitchen have kept you sane?

Riding my Harley. It’s not popular with some of my peeps because I wrecked last year and lost the whole year. But it gives me my own 20 minutes a day. There is a buzz with riding that can be replicated. And another way to meet great people from all walks of life.

Chris J Jones CEC is the executive chef and F&B director at The Old Collier Golf Club in Naples Florida, USA