Apr 30 2020

Interview with Portland Chef, Jason French

By: Rob Darmour

Earlier this year, our team spent an afternoon with Chef and Entrepreneur, Jason French. In the open kitchen of his award winning restaurant, Ned Ludd, he used our new kitchen knives to slice fennel and julienne carrots while sharing his career and the compassionate lessons of that journey.

He reminded us that food is about so much more than eating; that a meal is an experience and preparing food transforms ingredients into time spent with loved ones.

Mazama: When did you realize that you had a passion for food? What inspired you to start down this path?

 

JF: I grew up as a latchkey kid, and often I had to fend for myself for afternoon sustenance between school and sports. So, I just started kind of making grilled cheeses on my own and then mac and cheese. And then my mom one time called and asked if I could make dinner. And I said yes, and it was pot roast. And that weird, random, small experience started the whole thing off.

I think the big part was growing up in a family that was very food centric anyway, but coming to understand that food was this great equalizer to get people around the table and that it was an opportunity to share yourself and have really amazing results in the process.

And then professionally, I didn't start until I was in high school. My mom used to do a bunch of political fundraising growing up and we had numerous parties with caterers and what not. I ended up just kind of hanging in the kitchen with the caterers and developing an affinity for people's response to the food. It was way more exciting sometimes than the political talk that was going on, and watching the caterers sort of delight in their process and what they were able to bring to the table.

The cool part was having the ability to see people producing the food as well as gathering to kind of feast. I could have just, I suppose, been a gentleman farmer on some level, but there's something about that communal aspect of bringing people together that really started to kind of seal the deal for me on how I wanted to end up.

Mazama: There's a lot of different elements to the dining experience, and every chef has a different approach to that process. What areas of experience do you focus on to try to make it signature to the way that you create?

 

JF: There's something about that restaurant experience that always spoke to me. I'm interested in you having a genuine and unique experience that can help transport you to a place and to a time where you feel different and you feel well and you feel taken care of and you feel sort of embraced, and it's not just going out to dinner.

And that is part and parcel of the cuisine that we choose to do. We choose to do it because we want to impact the individual.

Not culture, not restaurant culture, not chef culture. Which I was really obsessed with in the beginning because suddenly I put it out in the world, and you're being validated for the thing you've been training for 25 years to be, and then you're it and then you're like, "Well, fuck yeah, I'm this," but really, you're just an extension of what you want for the patron. And a lot of chefs miss that and a lot of restaurants close as a result. Like, "Oh, this is the best concept and I'm the best chef and I'm super talented," and it's just like none of that matters if that person doesn't feel a connection with you.

Mazama: Being an entrepreneur and creator is not an easy journey, if you could travel back to when you first started, what lessons would you want to share with your young self?

 

Jason: It's all about the money. (Jason deadpans with sarcasm)

Before you jump into business, it's less important ‘what’ you know. It's more about how you know yourself to be in the world, because 9 times out of 10, that's essentially how you're going to show up. That's what the world's going to want to see. They're not going to want to see what you do, they're going to see who you are doing it, and that reality.

The more you can share the process of fear, the more vulnerable you can be, the more successful you will be because that fear and vulnerability drive us, which is really the impetus in many cases for successful entrepreneurs. It's also the catalyst for the greatest downfall. And so, what the life of the entrepreneur becomes is defining balance, defining boundaries, and understanding yourself as a set of values that you can be putting into the word on a consistent basis, which basically negates any confirmation bias of whether you're going to succeed or not. If you're always showing up as your whole self or as whole as you can be in that moment, that's one.

For people getting into it, it's just work, like it's just work. It's not success, it's not fame, it's not money, it's not feeling good, it's just fucking work and you got to get down with that.

Entrepreneurialism is a thing because people have drive and determination to make their own way in the world, and after that, it's just work.

Mazama: What's a recipe you think everybody should have in their back pocket?

 

JF: I think a good composed salad. Nicoise Salad is a great example, it can be a meal or it can be a side or it can be a brunch or it could be a light lunch or it could be a full dinner. It exists on all these levels because it's got fat, it's got acid, it's got bitter, it's got crunchy, it's got raw, it's got cooked, it's got all these things kind of coming together as one. And it is honestly the way that I eat. That's 80 percent of me cooking for myself. I’m like, "Oh, a bunch of stuff in a quart container!"

 

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Jason shared the recipe for this salad with our team.

You can read the recipe below.

SMOKED SAUSAGE AND
GARDEN VEGETABLE SALAD

Serves 4-6

 

“This is a great composed salad inspired by the cookbook author and bon vivant, Richard Olney. It is simple and relatively quick to prepare. It can act as a side dish, starter or main depending on your appetite. It is super versatile so consider it a template for a multitude of variations.

Switch up the proteins using leftover meat or fish from the previous night's dinner or add freshly grilled meat or fish just before serving. Switch up the vegetables or the nuts and seeds, add cooked beans or grains, more herbs or even pesto.

It’s really up to your mood and inclination but as with all cooking, have fun and keep it simple. Choose good kitchen tools and, as always, the best seasonal ingredients you can find.” - JF

Ingredients :

- 2 smoked sausages
- 1 leek, trimmed
- 1 bulb fennel, fronds reserved if available, trimmed and cored
- 1 stalk of celery, trimmed
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 1 orange, trimmed and sliced
- 2 scallions, trimmed
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives
- 1/2 bunch dill
- 1/2 bunch Italian parsley leaves
- 1/2 bunch chives
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted
- lemon juice
- olive oil
- coarse sea salt
- black pepper

Method :

1. Thinly slice the leeks and sausage. Add them to a sauté pan with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the leeks are soft and the sausage just starting to brown. Reserve warm in the pan.

2. While the leeks and sausage cook, prep the vegetables, slicing them into uniform shapes and adding to a large mixing bowl as you go. Season with salt and lemon juice and toss. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

3. Chop the olives, herbs and nuts together adding a small amount of olive oil as you go. Scrape into the bowl after the vegetables have macerated. Add the warm sausage and leeks and toss all the ingredients together.

4. Serve in a large bowl or divide onto individual plates. Drizzle with more olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Bon Appetite!