Chef Jason Hicks

by Michele Pesula Kuegler | September 21st, 2012 | Chef Interviews

When you think of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, what icons come to mind?  Perhaps it is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Morgan Library, or the Guggenheim.  Those are all good choices, but today I’m going to introduce you to a restaurant that certainly should be on your list of must-visit locations:  Jones Wood Foundry.

This restaurant is a true taste of England.  Noted as the Best English restaurant in New York City, according to the Village Voice, it is designed in the tradition of a proper pub.  Chef (and partner) Jason Hicks spoke with me about the menu, atmosphere, and more.

TT: What locally sourced items are being used in your dishes currently?

CH: For vegetables one of the items is English peas. From Coach Farm in White Plains we get goat cheese.  We also go to the farmers market.

TT: Have you created any special menu items that highlight the local produce?

CH: It changes.  I don’t waste food.  I try to avoid having a regular item, such as wild striped bass, with a menu that doesn’t change.  What happens when you don’t sell any bass? I can take an item off the menu.  Generally I buy enough of an ingredient.  For example, with bass, I buy ten to fifteen, maybe twenty, because that is what I think I’ll use in an evening.  I can take the five leftovers and use them on a special menu the next night, and bring in a new fish.  Everything is ultra fresh.  It keeps the menu rotating.  We also have familiarity, such as fish & chips, pies.  The fillings for pies change.  We always have three soups, and they always change.  Three of our apps are always changing.

We also have a toast menu, which is a small menu with three panels.  Each panel is priced separately- we do a lot of stuff on toast.  We use that predominantly for the bar.  They aren’t full appetizers; you will not be full but satisfied pre-dinner.  You don’t have to invest in knives and forks.  The toast menu hardly ever changes.

TT: What is your favorite dish that includes local produce?

CH: I generally gravitate to bangers and mash; hanger steak and chips.  I enjoy the soups.  Soups are cold right now. They have a lot of creativity.  We make small amounts quite often.

TT: Your menu is noted as being constantly evolving; how often do you change it?

CH: We could be bringing in stuff from next door neighbor, so we change thirty percent of the menu daily.  Our website is being fixed up, in a week or so it will get updated daily.  The idea of the website is that people check the menu out and see what we’re doing.

TT: I noted that you have a communal table; how many people does it seat?

CH: Twenty-three people.  It’s kind of funny; the whole feel of that room is amazing.  It’s a conservatory with skylights; a small room with patio doors going to that garden.  It’s very bright and airy. A lot of people want to sit there and take the whole table. We’re changing a lot of ideas about the way people perceive the restaurant.  The background is high end, but it’s more of a downtown feel in Upper East Side.  The quality of the food is fine dining, but it’s less money than fancy restaurants.

Once someone has been here once or twice you usually will embrace the idea of communal dining.  You’re excited to be there; before you may have been apprehensive. We are geared for our neighborhood.  We want to really be true to the concept of a pub with a nice, warm vibe.

TT: What makes your menu/restaurant unique?

CH: The staff.  We’re all friends, we’re in it together.  We have a common goal.  It’s a small restaurant with a small staff (30 or 40).  From the moment you walk in the door you feel like you could be at your best friend’s house.  You feel wanted.  You walk through the door, and you’ll chat with various staff members.  The next time you come in they’ll recognize you (they might not know your name), but they will recognize you.  The staff is there to help you. Details make a big difference.  We care about what we do.  We put every effort into everything we do.

For the community we do a lot of things. We celebrated the Diamond Jubilee and didn’t charge for it. There was entertainment all day; it was our gift to the community.  We did the same thing for the Royal Wedding.

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