Though a Californian by birth, Chef Russell Jackson has been setting New York City’s culinary world on fire since 2012. A former contestant on “The Next Food Network Star” and the Head Chef of “Reverence” in Harlem, Jackson prioritizes seasonality and intimacy in everything he does. Most recently, he’s been serving as a key member of the COVID task force at the Aspen Institute, where he’s advocated for community food relief and met with the White House team.
To learn more about Chef Jackson’s unique approach to cooking and service, including his thoughts on everything from spring garlic to inequality in restaurant supply chains, check out our interview with him below!
What, for you, is the magic of food?
There’s something that’s so inherently wonderful about food and dining and cooking and the impact it has on people’s lives. Through the process of growing up and cooking and coming to that greater realization... it's difficult to answer because I think it’s multi-faceted, it’s hard to put it into a succinct way. But this is who I am, and this is what I do.
What ingredient will always sell you on a dish?
Because I’m trained as a California-style chef, I eat with the seasons and prioritize quality. Some of my favorite ingredients, like peanut butter or foie gras, I may not be able to eat all the time. I start with what we are growing, what’s in the backyard — what can we do with what we have? I love spring garlic, and I go through 10 pounds a week, but I’m not a winter garlic fan. In October it’s all about chilies, in December it’s all about citrus. It’s how I was raised. If I’m cooking it, I’m inspired by it.
Do you have a favorite meal memory?
The most impactful moment in my culinary career was the very first time I got to feed [my son] Kingston in the restaurant. It was an absolute full circle moment.
How can folks use food to do good?
I think it’s important to consider things like the harsh realities of food sourcing and the inequality along the supply chains, and to understand the quality of those products.
Responsible sourcing costs me more money, and in turn it’s going to cost my guests more money. But it's the cost needed to get quality ingredients, to pay my staff a living wage, to have room for conversations in our restaurant about savings, healthcare, and investments.
We have choices to make as a public and must demand better. It’s a human right to not be abused by the systems that we create. From the investor to the management to the ownership, everyone needs to do their part.
And lastly... if your bodega named a sandwich after you, what would it be called and what would it be?
There’s a sandwich that I created in 2011 at my restaurant in San Francisco that I would eat every single day. It included all my favorite ingredients. It was “The Elvis” — triple-decker peanut butter and jelly, foie gras, and bacon sandwich, with homemade peanut butter that we used to grind up at the restaurant, huckleberry jelly, big slabs of foie gras, thick slabs of Iberian bacon.