Behind SF Chefs 2011 | Chef Interview with Lafitte's Russell Jackson
August is around the corner, which means that the food community in the Bay Area is gearing up for another round of exciting food events. There always seems to be something delicious going on this time of year. From August 1 -7, San Francisco will be abuzz with SF Chefs 2011, and this year’s event promises to be as enticing as ever. If you will be in town during this time, be sure to check it out — there are so many delicious opportunities to taste, toast, and mingle with some of the hottest names in the culinary world. You can read about my experiences at the Grand Tasting and one of the seminars last year.
[note title="SF Chefs 2011" align="right" width="300"] SF Chefs 2011 will be held at Union Square in San Francisco, August 1st – 7th, 2011 and will celebrate the local flair and regional flavors of San Francisco. This is a unique opportunity to experience the many joys of Bay Area food. SF Chefs Events include:
- The Grand Tasting Tent (August 5-7)
- SF Chefs Restaurant Week (August 1-7)
- Food Arts Industry Series (August 1-5)
- Sugar & Spice Party (August 4)
- Classes & Demos (August 6-7)
SF Chefs 2011 will support the Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation, which grants financial scholarships to students from the Bay Area entering culinary and hospitality programs.
Do pre-sale tickets and front-row seating sound even more appetizing? If you are a Visa Signature cardholder – just look to see if your Visa Card says ‘Visa Signature’ across it – you could be eligible to receive ticket savings of 20% to SF Chefs 2011 as well as priority admittance and preferred seating for all seminars in the Visa Signature classroom.
To learn more about this event and to purchase tickets, visit http://sfchefs2011.com. [/note]
I was excited to have the chance to interview some of the culinary minds behind SF Chefs 2011 – indeed, to me, the chefs are truly the highlight of this particular culinary event. Nobody values the camaraderie of the San Francisco chef community more than Chef Russell Jackson, who opened his restaurant, Lafitte, in 2010. I recently spoke with Chef Jackson about his love for the vibrant food community in the Bay Area, his experiences opening Lafitte, his first year at SF Chefs, and his upcoming Illy Chefs Challenge.
Born and bred in Los Angeles, Chef Jackson immersed himself in San Francisco’s food community as a student at the California Culinary Academy. After graduating, he returned to LA to open his first restaurant, Russell’s, and as a private chef to the glitzy set. You might say he left his heart in San Francisco; during his time there, Chef Jackson put his soul into building “a San Francisco restaurant in LA, but the LA principles of dining are dynamically different.” Chef Jackson did not mince words – he spoke bluntly of the difference in the element of pace in Los Angeles dining, and on what he felt was the superficial focus on elements such as the building, the people, and of course, the celebrities at a restaurant. The food, the sourcing of the ingredients, and the chefs behind them were he felt, “not a priority.”
Not so in San Francisco. Jackson returned to Northern California in 1999 and developed a following from SubCulture Dining, his underground supper club that allowed him to develop his inventive cooking style. In 2010, Lafitte was opened, and in many ways, it embraces all that is San Francisco. Located in its prime Embarcadero location, Lafitte is amid a food-topia that is down the street to the Ferry Building, and among many wonderful restaurants, many of whose chefs he considers good friends. He spoke so fondly of the supportive chef community in San Francisco, and his one lament is how he has not had the time to enjoy his friends’ restaurants.
Who has time to eat out when they’re working so hard to “nourish people” at their own restaurant? Chef Jackson has embraced every aspect of running Lafitte, but he adamantly stresses the team effort behind success. He is quick to recognize “his kids” as he calls the Lafitte staff, and clearly, he is a team player. In fact, when I called Chef Jackson for this interview, he was the one manning the phones, answering calls and greeting lunch guests as he answered my questions. Jackson credited his background in sports for his team approach, and even went so far as to engage his team in an intensive boot camp six weeks prior to the opening of Lafitte. The 6 am workouts prepped his kids and whipped them into top form for what he called a very “physical restaurant” – and resulted in a team that was full of synergy and motivation.
With a year under Lafitte’s belt, Chef Jackson has another round of boot camp in store for his kids. He’s also excited to be involved in SF Chefs this year. Lafitte will be participating in its very first SF Chefs Restaurant Week. There’s also the Illy Chefs Challenge to look forward to – he and fellow chef and friend Dominique Crenn (Next Iron Chef and Atelier Crenn) will partner to battle Chris Cosentino (Chef vs. City, Incanto) and Elizabeth Falkner (Top Chef Masters, Citizen Cake & Orson). The challenge will take place on August 6th, the ingredient of choice being coffee, and he and Chef Crenn will cook to benefit the charity of their choice, Livestrong. It is clear that Jackson is looking forward to the fun of it all – from playfully talking smack about Cosentino and Falkner to speaking fondly of they way he and Chef Crenn complement one another in the kitchen – the audience is in for such a treat. Jackson and Crenn have very different styles in the kitchen, but they have had fun hanging out together and bringing their strengths (Crenn for her technical ability and artistry, Jackson for his innovation) to creating unique plates. I can only imagine their practice sessions in the kitchen.
For such a busy man, I was curious, what does he cook when he does have a day off? “I don’t.” In the last 15 months, Chef Jackson has had 10 days off, so he does not cook for himself nor does he get to eat out, even at his friends’ restaurants. But last Monday was his birthday, and he was excited to finally get to eat at his buddy Scott Youkilis’s restaurant: Maverick. How else did he plan to spend his birthday and rare day off? After my chat with Chef Jackson, I wasn’t surprised to hear that he would be taking his “kids” skydiving. And he did plan to cook – a batch of paella was in the plan. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate. Hope you had a great birthday, Chef.
Pier 5, The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94111
Illy Chefs Challenge at SF Chefs 2011
August 6, 2011
Westin St. Francis, 4-5:30PM