10 Questions with Chef Jonathan Waxman

In his own words: most unlikely to succeed
waxman

Cambria Harkey

"There is a common language called cooking. It’s a language unto itself. If I say go sauté something or go grill something, you need to know what those really mean."

Sitting off to the shady side of a couple magnolias, I had a chance to chat briefly with chef Jonathan Waxman. Waxman, chef and restaurateur of Barbudo in New York, Adele's restaurant and Baja Sexto Taco in Nashville, Brezza Cucina in Atlanta, and Waxman's in San Francisco, is known far and wide for his fabulous performance on Top Chef Masters and his charming but brutally truthful personality. 

What or who has inspired you in food or life?
Jonathan Waxman: You know it’s funny, I was a musician for a long time, and I played trombone. The greatest trombone player in my eyes was J.J. Johnson. And I wanted to be  J.J. even though he was a black man who was 30 years older than I was. He was the greatest trombone player in the world, and that is what I wanted to be like.

You wake up at 3 a.m. and you're starving. What are you eating?
Always a taco or quesadilla.

Now that you're a part-time Nashvillian, do you have a favorite Honky Tonk bar in Nashville?
Robert’s Western World.

If there were yearbook superlatives for chefs — what award would you win?
I’m the loser. The most unlikely to succeed.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to be a chef?
It sounds cliché, but trust your gut. Find a mentor. Glom onto someone who you respect and admire and you want to emulate. And read as many cookbooks as you can. Just go to the library and sit there and read. Old "Gourmets". To absorb what a cook is. That's how you learn to speak cooking. There is a common language called cooking. It’s a language unto itself. If I say go sauté something or go grill something, you need to know what those really mean. People are totally vague on them. Learn what those words actually mean. Sauté means to jump. Did you know that?

If you could have entrance music or a theme song when you walked into a room, what would it be?
What is hip, by Tower of Power.

Dogs or cats? And why.
Both. Why? I love both. I have cats, but I need dogs for the balance.

What did you want to be when you were 5 years old?
I always wanted to be a doctor like every other stupid kid. I had this great pediatrician and he later became an incredible anti-Vietnam war activist. He actually went to Canada because he was so angry with our government. But he was the coolest dude in the world. I just wanted to be him.

How hot do you like your hot chicken?
I don’t think it’s hot enough. I grew up eating hot sh*t and I’ve had some red eye chili's — they make hot chicken feel like regular seasoning.

What is the food fad, or movement, or craze that you just don't get?
I just don’t get foam. I don’t understand foam. It’s like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.

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