EatDrinkJax.com shares their interview with restaurateur Jonathan Insetta of Black Sheep Restaurant.
Fresh Bacon and Eggs. Photo courtesy Jensen Hande Photography.
16. Do you have a favorite or signature item?
At brunch we do a Fresh Bacon and Eggs dish that is a dish I've been working on for a long time, since Chew. It's basically pork belly, grits, hot sauce elements and eggs. I'd eaten it at Chef David Chang's place, Momofuku, up in New York and it was made with quail and it just kind of blew my mind. So I thought we can do this with pork belly. We were working on this for a while and with our brunch menu I think we nailed it. We have a house made beurre rouge, which is a hot sauce element. We do 3 pieces of pork belly that we splice and cook like bacon on a flat top to crisp up each side. They're a good quarter of an inch thick. We brown them on both sides and put on beurre rouge and lovely grits that we do in-house with Wainwright cheddar. Then we do 2 perfectly poached eggs and serve it with a biscuit with a little bit of green onions on top. I think it's one of those things that just really comes together. I've been trying to do this for a long time and we finally made a few adjustments and it comes out really, really good.
17. Do you bake your own bread? We've heard really good things about it.
We do not. Bread is always a challenge. We use a few local bakeries like Village Bread right now. For both restaurants I try to pick and choose the best items from local bakers. We make our own buns at Orsay for our burgers but we try to limit what we make - it's pretty labor intensive.
18. Is there anything you have on the menu that has surprised you by its popularity?
I'd say the poutine is one of those things. We did it at Chew for a little while. When I was up in New York, going to Montreal I was hearing about poutine. I thought "whatever, it's just gravy and fries." When I finally had poutine I thought "what the heck is this!" They just use simple elements, but they use the best ingredients and put them together well. I think we capture that with our Poutine at Black Sheep. We went through a couple of different variations at Chew. We've now come back to a much more traditional style at Black Sheep. We use thick cut fries, Wisconsin cheese curds, and our home made pastrami. Our pastrami is a wet cure as opposed to a Montreal style dry cure but they're pretty similar end products. In Montreal they also use a little bit of bacon where we'll use our short rib. Our short rib gravy is really comforting with a luxurious feel to it. People freak out about it. The reason is that we try to keep it simple. We use products that make sense without straying too far from the poutine of Montreal. I tried to source Montreal cheese curds but I couldn't find a source that worked financially. We're trying to get one of our local suppliers to make our curds. People have really, really embraced it. It's definitely one of our best selling appetizers and it's one of the things people talk about the most on the internet.
I want to evolve the Poutine as well. We have ducks on the farm at Black Hog. I want to use a duck confit, foie gras and a duck egg drizzled on the poutine. I always Google new ideas I have and am saddened to find out it's been done 2,000 times. But, you'll probably see a duck egg in there some day. It's less traditional. We're taking the ideas and elements of stuff we have around us and that's awesome and applying it to a dish that's more traditional.
Croque Madame. Photo courtesy Jensen Hande Photography.
19. Can you tell us about your brunch?
It's table service. We serve it in the restaurant and on the roof as well. We have salads and a few items from our regular menu. Then we also have house-made breakfast sausage, a side of bacon and Benton's Country Ham. We currently have 6 entrees from the lunch and dinner menu and 9 items that are specific to brunch. The cool part about the items we chose from the lunch and dinner menu is that we could change them up slightly to make them into breakfast items. For example, if we add an egg to our burger it becomes a brunch item. Same thing with the BLT, just add an egg and it's more of a breakfast item. At the core though it's a menu we created just for brunch. I'm really proud of it.
20. Where did you learn to cook?
I started culinary school in Jacksonville at FCCJ when I was 20. I did well there and got a small scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. I did my externship in Miami at the Ritz Hotel in a restaurant called The Gaucho Room. It's no longer open but at the time it was really fine dining, high end, high volume and really progressive, with awesome food. After that I came back to Jacksonville to work on a few projects that didn't happen and then out of the projects that didn't happen, that's where Chew came from. I wasn't ready to do my own restaurant, at least I didn't think I was, and then not being able to start on some of these other projects, I was looking downtown and luckily I was able to do Chew. That was my first independent restaurant that I did by myself. But I've worked in the industry for a long time now.
21. What made you want to be a chef?
I've always liked to cook. It's something I've always done, really since middle school and all through high school. My Mom is a big influence - she cooks a lot. We had our own garden. We actually had our own chickens. We lived in Mandarin but had chickens for a long time until the City told us to get rid of them. I just grew up in that environment. My Mom's a great cook and we ate a lot of stuff from the garden. We had the eggs from out front, which I had to collect every morning - which I hated doing. I was the only kid in my neighborhood who had to collect eggs. But it was a big influence in my life. I was also lucky to be able to travel a bit when I was younger. I got to see foods in different places, which is always exciting. When I graduated from high school it wasn't very typical to become a chef. It took a few years to research and find where to go and what to do. I started at FCCJ. I'm still good friends with the people there and they've been a huge influence on my career. When I went to CIA I was able to be exposed to a lot more stuff and got to drive to places like Montreal as well as local farms and orchards. I've felt like I wanted to be in the restaurant business for a long time. Even in high school my friends would joke about me opening a restaurant. And now it's come true.