His resumé is different from those of most Miami chefs. Jan Jorgensen has worked at top restaurants in Zurich, in Greenland, at the well-regarded Fakkelgaarden in his native Copenhagen, and under chef Jeremiah Tower at California's landmark, Stars. Upon arriving in Miami during the early '90s, he operated JanJo's in Coconut Grove. In 1994, he opened Two Chefs in South Miami and since then has successfully surfed the turbulent waves of South Florida's fickle economy, fussy diners, and vacillating trends.
While Jorgensen shares the same elevated stage with Miami's most dedicated and talented veteran chefs, the spotlight rarely shines on him. But he has a lot to say. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss pork belly, food trucks, Food Network, Ferran Adrià, Michael Schwartz, Jorgensen's kids, the meaning of being a chef, and the path to a perfect soufflé — among other things.
New Times: How has the industry changed since you began?
Two Chefs: 8267 S. Dixie Hwy., South Miami; 305-663-2100; twochefsrestaurant.com.
Jan Jorgensen: It has changed a lot. I think the old guys — and I consider myself an old guy, I'm 47 — to us, it's a profession; it's craftsmanship, not a ten-minute TV show and five minutes of fame. I'm not going to fault Food Network, because I think it's a lot of fun to look at, but sometimes it might be giving the wrong message. There are only a handful of people who actually make it to TV and can make a good living with it.
Do you use students at Two Chefs?
I start them out on cold salads and then build them up... I've had students come from the Cordon Bleu school, the ones who advertise on TV. You ask them what a béarnaise sauce is, and they have no clue. They can't even hold a knife. One of them told me they basically sat for two years in a classroom and then a couple of months in a kitchen. How much money did the kid just spend? $40,000? I find that to be shameful.
Yet some of them consider themselves "chefs."
Chef is a misused word, and I think the Food Network has a lot to do with that. There are too many chefs and not enough cooks. You'll be watching a Burger King commercial and there's a "chef." If that's a chef, then I'm a cook. Purveyors will come in and show me beautiful, I mean beautiful, filet mignons portioned into center cuts, eight ounces each. I look at them and say, "These are absolutely gorgeous, and $9 a pound is a competitive price... but where are the trimmings?" I need the trimmings to make money. That's what a chef does. You take the trimmings and you make a beef stroganoff. I think that's one of the reasons I'm still around, because I'm actually doing that.
I'm going to name a few things and you tell me what you think about each one, starting with food trucks.
I always thought it would be great to have a hot dog stand downtown. You have a truck, you just pull over to the side of the road on Brickell Avenue, and open up your doors. What an excellent way of doing business. You go where the action is, and you don't have to worry about waiters, about dishes...
I used to serve it, when it just came out. I find it to be too fatty, a little too sloppy. I like it better as a chicharron or cracklings.
I don't quite understand that food. Noma (a Danish restaurant, which this year toppled El Bulli atop S. Pelligrino's 50 Best Restaurants in the World), which I had the pleasure of eating at when I was in Copenhagen, is much more something you can grab and feel. The cuisine (and what's going on in other Scandinavian restaurants) is very close to Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. It's all about using local ingredients and then setting them up in a certain way. It's inspired cooking. And it goes back to Georges Blanc, Escoffier, all these guys back in France. But thank God America started making its own cuisine... like we did at Stars when California cuisine was launched.
Have you dined at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink?
I enjoy Michael's food. It's simple, and it makes sense.
What makes your soufflés so popular? They are Two Chefs's only dessert now, right?
It's just a classic recipe that we haven't fucked with, to be straight up with you. Right before Christmas I said to my staff, "What would happen if we pulled all the other desserts off the menu?" They said, "Absolutely nothing." People love our soufflés. As soon as they sit down, before they even order appetizers, they'll say "We want the chocolate soufflé."
You've changed your regular menu format as well.
We had a ton of people who ate off the specials board and not enough from the main menu. So I decided to make a great new menu every week. No more specials board. I'm going to have eight or nine appetizers, and seven or eight entrées, one in each category — meat, fish, shellfish, pasta, and so forth. I'll say to my cook, "Could you make a beautiful black pepper fettuccine that we can use for the next few days? My purveyor just called me — I've got great scallops coming in, so let's do something with that." And when we're bored of it after five days, we'll create a new dish.
We all do tartar and steak with French fries, because we think that's what the customers want. I want to do different food, get my staff excited. If the tomatoes are good right now, let's run it for the next month. After that, I don't want to see a tomato in my house; I want to see white asparagus, because it's seasonal, and the price is right, and all these things.
And I assume South Miami has changed a lot since you opened Two Chefs.
I've been here for 17 years, and in that time we've added 7,000 restaurant seats within a six-mile radius — between Merrick Park, South Miami, Dadeland, etc. The same customers are just being moved around. A new place opens and is really successful, another opens a few years later, and all they do is take people from the first place.
How old are your kids now?
Our daughter will be 15 next month, and our little boy is a little over 3.
Does your daughter spend much time in the kitchen?
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No, it's more Facebook and texting, maintaining the relationships with her friends. But we cook at home. For the little one, instead of buying pizza, I'll bring a dough ball and some cheeses, and we'll make it together. He's already slicing mushrooms and has been for awhile.
Looking ahead for cheap labor?
It would be a lot of fun. When I read Norman had introduced his son at Norman's 180, I was thinking that must have been a great moment for him. That's something every chef wants out of life: for the offspring to follow in their footsteps.