Welcome back to Foodie Friday. For the first introduction of 2019, we present Jason Ziobrowski, CEC, corporate chef for InHarvest. Chef Jay Z is certified by the American Culinary Federation (ACF) as an Executive Chef, meaning he’s demonstrated competence and passed tests demonstrating his ability in a wide range of culinary skills and knowledge. He works with chefs and operators in multiple industry segments to help them heighten the dining experience through the use of grains.
He also works with the local ACF chapter to take cooking to young children through the USDA’s Chefs Move to Schools with “5 a Day the Color Way in Charlotte.” The program, which relies on chef volunteers and donated foods, has become a model for other ACF chapters to get involved with schools in their communities and teach K-12 customers to appreciate whole, fresh foods and their origins and make healthful choices throughout their lives.
Chef is also in his second term as president of the ACF Chefs of Charlotte. He was honored nationally by the ACF with a 2016 Cutting Edge Award, which is presented to a select group of chefs annually in recognition of their leadership and service to the culinary profession. More recently, he was acknowledged by the organization’s president with a 2018 ACF Spirit of Aloha Award bestowed upon an elite handful of culinarians.
What is your role in the food industry?
I serve as corporate chef for InHarvest, a foremost producer and procurer of some of the world’s most distinctive varieties of grains, legumes and blends for the foodservice, industrial and retail sectors. The company, based in northern Minnesota, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018.
How did you first get involved in the food industry?
My Grandma Jane was over for lunch one day after I graduated high school and asked me what I was going to do now for a job. I said I did not know and she said, “This tuna-fish sandwich is delicious. You should go to cooking school.” So, I did (Johnson & Wales University). It was love at first sight with the stainless steel of the kitchen.
What/who inspired your current role in the food industry?
There are so many people, including:
Chef John Aukstolis, who was my garde-manger instructor at J&W. He pushed me more than any of the other instructors, which made me work harder and learn more. He cared.
Chef Nancy Kombert, CEC, CSCE, a friend and chef instructor for Western Suffolk BOCES at Wilson Tech in Dix Hills, N.Y., inspired me to care about teaching people when I taught at the Education Training Institute in Manhattan. I learned to like teaching because of her passion. It rubbed off on me.
Genevieve Stona, vice president of joint ventures for Thompson Hospitality, a strategic partner with hospitality-services provider Compass Group, has had a huge influence on my presentation and education-delivery skills to keep me growing—not just with cooking, but with teaching about what I am cooking. She helped me build my social skills and networking abilities.
John White, a former colleague from the beginning days of my career in the early ’90s, taught me a lot about the corporate world and working as a team, and was a personal-growth mentor for me to become a better person.
Chef Corey Wry, former owner of three successful restaurants in Manchester, Conn. (Pastrami on Wry, Catsup & Mustard and Chops & Catch), is now executive chef of Geno’s Grille in Storrs, Conn. He is a great friend of 20 years and chef colleague who taught me to “Just do it and be creative” and “Cook damn good, creative food!”
What food trends are most influential in what you do?
All trends in general, but especially those related to nutrition, better health and wellness. What I mean is that Americans say they want more healthy options that are highly flavorful and satisfying. But they’re often reluctant to try anything made “better for you.” So relying on “stealth health” is still the best way to incorporate health and wellness into someone’s diet. I serve many people food prepared with less sugar, salt and saturated fat, yet is “craveable” — without announcing what I’ve done. It might mean substituting milk for cream or vegetable stock for beef or chicken stock. Individuals will make wiser food choices once they discover they savor such dishes.
What is the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the food industry?
Labor. It’s a struggle today to find individuals who care enough to want to make a difference in the workplace. But I quote The Ritz-Carlton Credo card that I’ve carried in my wallet since 2001 when I worked at the Naples, Fla., property under Chef Lawrence McFadden, CMC: “We are ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentleman.” Once we begin teaching that again, maybe the workforce will become a little more eager to want to work—and work harder—in a very demanding industry.
What keeps you going as a food professional?
That reaction of customers and other chefs after experiencing the food and flavors I prepared in such a genuine, caring way, which is priceless. That “Damn, this is really good!” reaction. It makes me keep coming back for more and more.
What’s your favorite food to make at home?
What’s your favorite meal to order in a restaurant?
Something that I have never had prepared in that way. This is how I always order.
What three ingredients could you not live without?
Chicken wings, Montreal chicken seasoning and water.
Name the food/ingredient you can’t live without.
Right now, quinoa.
Tell us about a memorable meal you’ve had.
Three years ago in Greensburg, PA, an upscale restaurant, The Supper Club at the historic train station, was a hidden farm-to-fork place owned by Chef Greg Andrews. We had the heirloom-tomato gazpacho; a salad of arugula, pickled beets, watermelon, tomato and minted buttermilk dressing; the kimcheese bites; and the Logan Family dry-aged ribeye with local potato medley, sautéed green and yellow beans with chorizo, espresso BBQ sauce and green-onion compound butter. We finished with rosemary-chocolate butter cake, strawberry crème fraîche gelato and cabernet black-pepper syrup … OMG, the memories! Absolutely blown away by the down-home service we received as a big group. (Editor’s note: This restaurant is unfortunately closed, but Andrews continues his work with a line of pickled products.)
And then last June, Remy on the Disney Dream cruise ship absolutely met every single aspect of what I need to be impressed. Service was impeccable, French and American preparations were amazing, the courses were timed perfectly, and the wine service was unforgettable with wines that were so rare. All with the upgraded ambiance of the private wine-room chef’s table.
What cookbooks or cooking classes are most important to you and why?
Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential because it’s real life and relatable, a kick-your-ass kinda’ book. And Sharon Tyler Herbst’s Food Lover’s Companion has saved my vocabulary and answered my questions many a time.
Tell us about your favorite vacation destination.
A cruise ship to many places. Back to Disney, the service is top notch, and if it’s not they make it right for you. The food is always fresh, plentiful and creative, with something for everyone. The ambiance … everything is always clean and presentable even after a crazy mess. The Ritz-Carlton motto, “Smile, you’re on stage,” applies in every aspect.
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