On the Line: Jeffrey Boullt Of SOCIAL, Part One
Don't ask him to smile
Photo by LP Hastings
There was a sincere nature that came across in Chef Jeffrey Boullt's responses. Of course, there was also a hint of humor that kept things light in our discussion. But chef's devotion to his craft was apparent throughout, " I wish I could cook with my brain more, but I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I cook that way."
Favorite meal growing up: Refried beans that my grandmother Hortensia would make. She would finish them with a ton of cheese, and I would eat them with fresh tortillas, still steamy and warm. As simple as it was, this changed my perspective on food at a very young age. I try to channel her in what I do in the kitchen at SOCIAL.
With a name like SOCIAL, how do you promote/encourage that type of environment? The concept was based more on a small/shared plate format with a Bay Area feel. With that being said, I knew I would have to be fast and efficient. From the back of the house standpoint, we encourage our cooks to care about the little things, and quality on the plate that translates better to the guest. Everything out of our kitchen is "Order/Fire". I don't have a heat lamp-- which I feel encourages social interaction at the table because you have to share the dish while it's hot before the next one comes out.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true. That finding good help these days is hard to find. Yes, it's true.
What are some of your most requested items? I was just told that our servers get asked about three times a night if we have Red Bull and vodka. I didn't even know that still was a thing.
Best culinary tip for the home cook: Don't be afraid to burn yourself. It doesn't hurt as much after the first few times. Ha!
Where was your most recent meal? Taco Maria for my anniversary. Carlos is an amazing chef, and I just let him cook for us. His Dungeness crab rice porridge is my favorite dish of the year.
Most frequently asked question by guests. What is gluten-free? (Which is funny, since two years ago I rarely ever got asked that.) Luckily for our guests, that answer is easy. We have an alternative menu that lists all of our gluten-free items. I love to cook with vegetables and proteins, so we usually have at least 10 items. I also love to cook vegan off the menu upon request. I was vegan from age 15 to 19. I know my way around the diet and respect it dearly.
You're making breakfast. What are you having? Anson Mills quick grits with honey and berries.
Could you tell us about your bar program? Our bar program is stellar. They run it like a lot like a kitchen. They test-write recipes and do everything from scratch. It's also a lot of fun to see them making a pineapple Serrano shrub and relating it to what I do. They are just as intense as me about their product, and it definitely shows.
Tell us about your culinary experience, including other places you've worked at in California. Most notable restaurants include Commanders Palace in New Orleans, Anisette Brasserie in Santa Monica, Le Petite Ermitage in West Hollywood, The Churchill in West Hollywood, Playground in Santa Ana (Mama Roux was my pop up at Playground 2.0 in Santa Ana) and Tavern in Brentwood.
Did you attend culinary school? And did you learn anything that you might not have been taught if you didn't attend? I went to a little school in Alabama just for the credential. I figured it was the right thing to do, but once I got there I realized I probably should have just kept cooking and learning in professional kitchens. Culinary school is great for the basic knowledge of terms and different techniques. What culinary school will not teach you is how to make the right decisions in the heat of the moment. And, most of all, how to be respectful or how to carry yourself properly as a restaurant professional. That you learn on the job.
Is there a dish you'd like to learn how to make? Stone ground baked grits with country ham by Frank Stitt. My parents live 30 minutes outside of Birmingham, Alabama. Every time I'm visiting I take a trip to Highlands. I love this dish and try to replicate it often. It's just never as good, but what can I say? No one can create Southern cuisine quite like Frank Stitt.
What would be your last meal on Earth? Deep fried soft shell crab po boy with sauce gribiche.
What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant? No one really tells you how hard it is to actually find your voice/personality as a chef. I know that sometimes my reputation is that I'm a perfectionist and I'm difficult to impress, but cooking is more than a passion to me. Cooking consumes me. Anyone that has cooked alongside me or seen me work understands that. I wish I could cook with my brain more, but I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I cook that way. I hope my hard work successfully translates into the food I serve at SOCIAL.
Most important quality you look for in a sous chef. I feel that I come from a different world of cooks and chefs than this generation, so my expectations are so different. I look for what I was at one point in time. I loved being a sous chef. My mentors were sous chefs, and they pushed me the hardest. They pushed me to see what I had inside to make me a better cook. Being a sous chef was an honor, and it still and always will be my favorite job in the kitchen.
My sous chefs far exceed my expectations daily. Jackie, Brian and Sergio are honestly the greatest group of chefs I could have wished for. They allow me to be me, and create success for us. It's the way I look at my chefs, and it's an honor to be their chef. I respect them more than anyone could ever realize.
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