From beginning his culinary career flipping burgers at McDonald's, to commandeering the SubCulture Dining (SCD) experience, to battling on Iron Chef and, most recently, landing a spot on the acclaimed The Next Food Network Star — Chef Russell Jackson is anything but your traditional chef. This TCHOPro is shaking up the food world, producing outrageous flavor combinations with insanely delectable flavors. Don’t be deceived by his proclamations of culinary dissidence, larger than life personality, and mohawk ‘do — at the center of his inspiration is an unwavering respect for the craft: “[Through cooking] I've learned one must first be able to really understand yourself, your thoughts and your emotions, in order to express them through food".
“I was first introduced to TCHO by a friend and started playing around with the founding 4 PureNotes™ dark chocolates. The single origin, flavor-focused profiles were appealing, but it was the fanatical approach TCHO takes to each of their chocolates … you can’t help but have that rub off on you.”
You’ve had quite the culinary journey so far — can you briefly fill us in on the more monumental moments?
My first job in the food industry was at McDonald’s; I was 15 years old. Although not the most glamorous, there was something special there — I was good at handling the pressures of a kitchen, and wanted more.
I moved onto throwing 3-course dinner parties for friends and it just made sense for me to continue down this path that I enjoyed so much. I continued on to open a San Francisco-based restaurant, LaFitte, while simultaneously working on an underground “beast” phenomenon, SubCulture Dining. Then one day, the phone rang and it was Iron Chef. And then soon came the offer from The Next Food Network Star. Its been a whirlwind!
Really … McDonald’s?!
At 15 years old, school wasn’t always the easiest for me. But for the first time, I felt good at something. As soon as I was put behind that grill at McDonald’s, something clicked. I became a burger-flipping demon! For real, I held the burger flipping record while there.
You’re currently a contestant on The Next Food Network Star! What’s that like?
I’m a reality TV junkie, but The Next Food Network Star is more than just a reality show. This is one of those experiences where they’re really building a star. It’s been such a unique experience, I can talk and talk about it, but I can’t really describe it — words just won’t do it justice. It’s forced me to acknowledge that these people [the judges] see something in me, it’s affirmed that I am here for a reason. I don’t feel like I’m competing against other people, but rather I’m competing against myself.
You seem to embody an entirely different approach to the culinary art, have you always been such a “philosophical” chef?
It’s taken me a long time to get where I am, professionally, personally and philosophically. Truly getting to a place where I can be open, emotional, and raw in my work — this has taken me a long time to realize. I’ve always had a wide breadth for what I’m open to working and experimenting with, but as I mature professionally (and personally), I’ve learned that it really is about great tasting food that nourishes the body, heart and soul.
What’s next for Chef Russell Jackson? More Next Food Network Star, an anything-but-average SCD adventure in NYC, and plenty of TCHO! The Dissident Chef will live up to his title by brushing TCHOPro 84% on a smoked corncob, baking SeriousMilk™ chocolate chip cookies with bacon, and perhaps even use TCHOIntense 99% in a poultry dish. Always the culinary revolutionist and ever the kitchen philosopher, his ultimate goal with TCHO is “To pay homage to and do justice to the chocolate you’ve worked so hard to create”.
Photo Credit: Brandon B. Jones