Jonathan Waxman, A Great American Cook

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Jonathan Waxman is a great American cook. He cut his teeth at the birthplace of California cuisine, Chez Panisse, following the departure of Jeremiah Tower. In 1979, he and chef-entrepreneur Michael McCarty opened Michael’s restaurant in an old mansion near the Santa Monica beach; the groundbreaking cuisine attracted diners from all over America. Then he took the big leap and  opened Jams Restaurant on East 79th Street in New York; the chance to dine with what New York Magazine called “an elder statesman of the new California cooking” made Jams the most sought after dining sensation of the season. His work at Jams made him a celebrity chef; “whoever said chefs in the 80’s were like rock-and-roll stars”, said one reviewer, “had Jonathan in mind.” Esquire magazine put him on its list of most influential Americans. More recently, you may have seen Jonathan on TV, as he makes regular appearances on Top Chef.

For a guy who thinks locally, he sure gets around.

Jams closed, he moved back to dabble in California, switched gears and re-located to New York yet again, opened a short-lived, but much beloved Washington Park, and re-appeared with his current success story.

Early on, he learned the connection between how the bird is raised and how the bird tastes.

For years we’ve eaten at his downtown New York City restaurant, Barbuto, we have always hungrily admired the simple, delicious dishes found on his plates. His attention to seasonal menus mean there is always something ultra-fresh on which to dine.

When we were there recently, we realized that we haven’t shared this interview (we did with him in 2007) on Handpicked Nation. We were fortunate enough to interview him when his first cookbook, the aptly titled A Great American Cook was freshly published.

We shot this old school before we had HD cameras, but we think what Jonathan communicates is worth watching.

In this video, he discusses how his food philosophy was shaped early on under the watchful eye of Alice Waters as a chef at Chez Panisse. He talks about his upbringing in Sebastopol, California on his grandparents chicken farm. It was there that he learned the connection between how the bird is raised and how the bird tastes.

Each time we go to Barbuto, I swear I’m going to order something new, but his fire roasted chicken with salsa verde is impossible not to order! PS: We can also report that Jonathan is a great guy.

A wag once said that ‘it’s easy when you know how” and Jonathan’s use of simple ingredients, perfectly prepared, proves how right the wag was.

Jonathan’s famous for his roasted chicken with salsa verde. What’s your recipe for chicken?

Thank you to Peter Pioppo for use of his handsome portrait of Mr. Forgione you see in the video.

Photo credit: Craig McCord after John Kernick