New Times: Did your parents cook?
Jonathan Eismann: My parents owned a hotel when I was a kid in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. It was the consummate 1970s-Alice's-Restaurant-in-the-Berkshires-country-inn, which had great food. My mom was the chef.
That's how you got into cooking?
No. When I was 13 in New York City, I worked for Restaurant Associates. They had a place called the New York Plaza Club. When I worked in that restaurant, I was 13. The World Trade Center was under construction.
And how did you enter the culinary world at 13?
My mom was the head of the PTA at my school in Brooklyn. She assembled a group to be coat checks at an event. So I was a coat check in my crushed blue velvet blazer and hair down to the middle of my back. At the end, the Venetian general manager, his name was Romeo, came to me and said, "Listen, if you ever want a job, let me know. You're a good worker."
I called him a week later. He made me a floorman. A floorman goes around with a scoopetta, which is a brass dustbin, and a broom. One day I came in and they asked me to work in the kitchen for a day. The chef was a screaming friggin' maniac! At the end of the shift, he said to me: "What's the matter with you?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, you keep working while I'm screaming at you." I said, "I dunno. It didn't bother me."
The next time I came into to work, I put my key in my locker and it was empty. I went to the human resources [lady] and said, "What happened with my locker?" She said, "We've got another locker for you." Inside was a white chef's coat. They said, "We want you to be a prep cook."
By the time I was 17, I was cooking at home for my parents and their European friends. My mom said... there's a natural instinct here. I truly do believe... there are some things you can't teach people. Not everybody is a great chef.
That's a sweet story, but I have to tell you, you don't necessarily have a reputation as the nicest guy around.
What's my reputation?
You're tough to deal with.
I do keep things close to the chest. I'm a stand-up guy. I'm not a barky guy. There have been occasionally publications which have completely twisted things I've said. There are people who have written about me in Miami who have discussed dishes in detail I've never cooked or served in my restaurant.
Hmm. Let's move on to the fun questions. Any ingredient you don't like working with? Why?
Purple yam powder. It smells too bad. It's a Vietnamese ingredient.
Most unusual food combination you've ever created or been served?
I made something at Pacific Time... kombu dashi with semillon botrytis gelée. People loved that. It might not be considered unusual now. When I started Pacific Time, there was no Internet, there was no Food Network.
What would your last meal be?
My wife's roast chicken and potatoes cooked at home with my wife and kids. It would blow you away. It's perverse.
You'd have your wife cook? What's her secret?
I don't know.
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Lastly, do you feel like you're still at the top of your game? Still planning to grow in Miami?
Absolutely. You know that expression "15 minutes of fame"? Most people get 14. I feel like I've had 16. My ego is completely satisfied from the culinary aspect from being in Miami.