A 30-year culinary veteran from Newark, New Jersey, Chef Jesse Jones started his journey in the kitchen at home with his mother whom he says was a great cook in her own right. From there, all of his future employment would revolve around cooking. He operated as a dishwasher, Food Service Director for Aramark, supported several professional chefs and eventually, went to both culinary school and business school. Rounding out his education by graduating from Catherine Gibbs School of Business was, “one of the best things he could have done.” He states, “I encourage any chef to go to business school to ensure they understand that, when all else is said and is still a business.”
GR: So, what inspires a guy from Newark to be a chef?
Chef Jesse: Watching my family in the kitchen (my mother and my aunt). My mother always said I was a showman, so in the kitchen is where I decided to develop my showmanship. Not only that, the gratification I get when people take the first bite of my food and go “wow” – that’s why I do it.
GR: In every interview I’ve seen on television, you mention your grandmother. Tell us why she was such an influence.
Chef Jesse: My grandmother… She lived to the age of 92 and was just an awesome cook. She was always my biggest supporter. No matter what I called her with, in the end, she would state, “It’s going to be all right” and it usually was. Hannah Jones was famous for her sweet potato pie and her molasses pudding and she was very skilled at using either of them for incentives. In my family they [her pieces] were better than money.
GR: Sweet Potato pie is an art. It is part of our culture and history. Tell us about yours…
Chef Jesse: My Sweet Potato pie is mine! Is it the best? Arguably, but I just want to leave a mark. My pie is a derivative of my grandmother’s style but also my education and research. I put my potatoes through a ricer to get rid of the strands, which makes those potatoes nice and smooth; apply some (secret) techniques I learned from my tutelage under a master baker; then get my very own version that is one to be envied. All of the rustic features and taste are there, but I take it to the next level. Gourmet even.
GR: You have been seen on Basketball Wives, Love and Hip Hop and numerous news and food segments, so when folks see you online they automatically think celebrity chef. Is that how you see yourself? Which celebrity chef do you follow?
Chef Jesse: I love a lot of chefs on TV and truly appreciate all they do, but the one that most probably do not even remember was a brother named, Patrick Clark who passed at the age of 42. One day, I’ll never forget, I walked past the TV and there was an afro and a white chef’s jacket. I did a double take and I knew I wanted to be like him. This brother was on TV with Julia Child on her cooking show. It changed my life! He is gone now, but he made me feel like we can keep our food alive, relevant, and elevated. So, it’s not about the celebrity of it all for me, but more so about my being happy in my niche. I’ve found it. I cook, lay it out before you and let you be the judge. Now don’t sleep! I’ve got a lil’ personality and that takes a chef a long way. happy with what I do and how I do it, but my man, Patrick Clark, definitely inspired me. He was the first celebrity chef of African decent.
GR: You have amassed thousands of followers on social media. How does that feel?
Chef Jesse: It feels great. I was told many years ago that I bring charisma and character to the kitchen and that’s always stuck with me. I don’t try to sell myself. My food is an extension of me. My food is ‘me’ on a plate, nothing more nothing less.
GR: So from a Global Food perspective, what is your favorite food?
Chef Jesse: Apart from elegant neo soul food, French food is where I would love to delve into next. My next journey will, no doubt, land me in Paris real soon to learn more about French cuisine and the art of it all. Even now, when I plate my own food, I have French cuisine in mind as I arrange it. French food is appealing to all the senses. It’s nice to look at, smells great and it doesn’t take mounds of it to satisfy your tastes. That’s what I hope to achieve with my food only with a little more punch.