Chef Chat: Jonathan Jones of Beaver's
Former chef for Max's Wine Dive and head honcho at Beaver's (2310 Decatur Street), Jonathan Jones is a gastropub's irreverent dream and tweet-a-holic who wants you to "get your tails to the Beaver."
How do you feel about being associated with comfort food?
I'm fine with being known for grass roots cooking. It's whimsical, culinary comedy.
What do you mean by culinary comedy?
I mean food that touches the kid in people. Calling a dish a "bad ass po-boy" makes people giggle, and they order it to find out what makes it bad ass. I got the idea from the way Subway used to cut a cube out of the top of their loaves instead of cutting them in half. I deep fry a baguette until it becomes a huge crouton, then stuff it with oysters, pickles and fried onions. That's bad ass.
What is man food?
I think it has something to do with portion size. When I worked at Max's we did man food to the max: 12-inch pancakes, fried chicken dipped in honey, eye-of-chuck roasted po-boys with truffle gravy. If my food wore clothes, it would wear short skirts and boots.
What do you say to people who think making "artisanal bar food" is wasting fine ingredients on fatty dishes?
My restaurant is not for you. My food may not be good for the heart, but it's good for the soul. I put osso bucco in a sandwich because I can. And I think my patrons get it. They are enthusiastic foodies who like the idea of using high-end products playfully.
What did you appreciate or not appreciate about your training at the Art Institute of Houston?
Some of the bourgeois traditions I could do without. It's too hot in Southeast Texas to worry about restaurant uniforms. And I don't follow the 13 steps of braising. On the other hand, the school teaches discipline in the kitchen; you're working with thousands of BTU's of gas and you need to be careful. Also, you need to learn about where culinary traditions come from before you manipulate them. Fusion cooking is not easy.
Who influenced your decision to become a chef?
My step-dad Roelof is from Holland, which was the colonial power over Indonesia. He could make his own sauerkraut and cook Indonesian food. I learned Mexican cooking from neighbors in La Porte, who also had me speaking Spanish at ten. My mom says I was inspired by watching Martin Yan on Yan Can Cook. That's a man who knows how to use a knife.
What are your favorite things to eat?
Other than women?
You want that in the interview?
Sure. Everyone asks me why this place is called Beaver's. But also put that I'm a seafood guy, so anything from the Gulf. I like Peruvian ceviche with leche de tigre. Raw oysters. Nice, pan-seared crispy fish. Uni -- that's urchin roe that tastes like a grimy iodine custard. And classic pecan pie.
Yes! A precise Sazerac, whiskey, morello wine from Northern Italy. And Lone Star beer.
Don't you use Lone Star in your cooking?
I make Lone Star Mussels, with garlic, green shallots, Serrano chiles and coconut milk, served with Texas toast.
Is there anything you dread about your job?
Not being busy. The first two weeks of September -- right now when school's just started -- can be slow. But the great thing about being an old icehouse like Beaver's is the neighborhood supports you.