EatDrinkJax.com shares their interview with restaurateur Jonathan Insetta of Black Sheep Restaurant.
Boxed office lunch. Photo courtesy Jensen Hande Photography.
22. What do you think the most important qualities are for a chef?
Passion and drive. Then organization and management skills. You need to start with passion for the product and really caring about what you do. With passion and caring you'll be able to overcome your shortcomings - you'll improve just because you care so much about it and put in the effort to get better.
23. What part of being a chef do you like the most?
Different things. I've got Executive Chefs at both Orsay and Black Sheep. At Orsay I'm working on the line whereas at Black Sheep I'm trying to take a step back to focus on the bigger picture. I'm still trying to find my comfort in that. I'm in the kitchen and I'm involved in the menu writing but I'm not as involved in the day to day cooking. I'm still coming to grips with that and with becoming more of a restaurateur. What attracted me at culinary school was the adrenaline of working the line. It was being able to accomplish something at night that you might not get a lot of credit for but that not many people can do and most people don't know how hard it is to do and to do it properly. You need to put food in the windows but it needs to be the right food.
24. Why Jacksonville?
It's my home town. It's a community I care about with people I care about. My family's here. When I moved out I never thought I'd move back, which is fairly typical for a lot of younger people from Jacksonville. But I realized how awesome it is here and how much the community means to me. I also thought I could be a force for positive change in a community I cared a lot about.
25. Where did you get the name Black Sheep?
Black Sheep was originally the name of the restaurant group. By "group" I mean "couple" - all 2 of us. We were coming up with a name as we were growing and Black Sheep is something I thought was inherently us. As we were looking for a name for the restaurant I really liked Black Sheep a lot. Guy Ferri, who was with us early on, convinced me that we could have the Black Sheep name for both. The restaurant didn't have to have a different name. I was just really in love with the name Black Sheep. I think it relates to America and to how we perceive ourselves as a country and how as individuals in any family unit you perceive yourself. I think everyone thinks they're the black sheep of their family in some way. The Rebel Without a Cause idea has a lot of that. It's just a big part of the American landscape. It's probably a big part of any country's landscape. It's that individual feeling that you're always the black sheep. That's part of the human condition and I think it fits well. Way back with Chew and when we were putting together the restaurant group, when we started going into print media and started playing with the name, the versatility of the BLK and the SHP and what we could do in print I found to be very intriguing.
26. Have you had any big surprises at Black Sheep?
Every day is a new opportunity. I've started calling challenges opportunities. At Black Sheep we're doing a lot of volume - it's been a lot more than I've done anywhere else in my career. What has been really inspiring to me is having an outstanding crew in both the front house management and back house management that has allowed us to do the numbers and volume we have at the level of consistency and quality we are being able to provide. Look, we fall short. We have our successes and our failures. But overall I think we're way ahead of where we expected to be in terms of quality and integrity. We still have a long way to go. We have a lot of growth and evolving to do. But it blows my mind when we can do a Friday night service with 600 orders. Those numbers, from a line cook's perspective, are mind boggling. To be able to keep up with our integrity and put out food that we are more than proud of really blows my mind. It's a compliment to our staff and management - from our servers, cooks … everyone. It's pretty killer what we're accomplishing now, as a group. I'm really proud of it and I hope that they are.
27. Have you ever thought of doing a food truck?
We have. For our sector it doesn't make as much sense. It's a good point of sale for us but a food truck is successful when someone is really committed to it and to the format of the food truck specifically. You see people going from food trucks to brick and mortar. Or you see in LA where people have food truck empires. From my perspective it's something that I don't know as well. About 4 or 5 years ago it was something I looked at pretty seriously. For me, I'm beyond stoked to see the food trucks in Jacksonville and what they can offer in terms of interesting things to eat. From the restaurateur side, as of right now, it's not something that's in our business plan. It would be more as a point of sale to let us do catering and other things.
28. Who's the audience for your catering?
We mostly do business lunch catering. We've done some pretty big events and have done well at them, but we're not set up in general to do large catering. Eventually we may go into full scale catering but I'll need to get the equipment to do that. It's a different ballgame. Our catering now is set up for business lunches and it has a really, really good menu. We're going to be getting delivery trucks soon and we'll be full bore promoting that side of it. We see it as a big growth possibility. I think we have an opportunity to offer a menu that's really different and appealing. So our core audience today is business lunches, Board meetings, celebrations, and that type of thing.
29. What do you think is next for Black Sheep?
Chew was originally designed for the fast casual concept. That's why you see the fast casual lunch at Black Sheep. The idea was to look at the fast casual sector and bring a much better product out at the same price point - to bring really great food out at a more affordable price point to a broader audience. That's what we're looking at. We want to take the lunch concept and bring out a stand alone restaurant based upon that as we evolve and grow the menu. I've been talking to my chef at Orsay about doing a taqueria. I've also been talking to my sous-chef at Orsay about doing a noodle bar. You'll see the direction it's going. If we don't do it at Orsay or Black Sheep you'll see it somewhere else in the city with more of an emphasis on fast casual, approachable food, but with the same core integrity of the product that we do now. I hate the term fine dining. Good food should be available to everyone, and it can be. It just has to be done well at a cheaper, more affordable price point.
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About the writer
EatDrinkJax.com interviews are conducted by Jacksonville Beach resident Gerry Glynn. When Gerry isn't talking with restauranteurs he is working for a local software company, training for his next road race, and hanging out with his wife and dog.