Living with JBFA Winning Chef Jason Stanhope
Q&A with A. K. Lister
Q: Who does the cooking at home?
A: Jason makes our 1.5-year-old son Leo an omelette almost every morning while I have my coffee and get ready, as leisurely as possible. Otherwise I am the home cook, relying on “one pot wonders” like soups, stews, or curries that can be stretched to feed us all for a couple days. I really do look to so many of Suzanne’s tried and true recipes for hearty meals that will fill up hungry people.
When friends are coming over for dinner, I tend to start with an idea then ask J a million questions until he finally takes over and makes it look and taste more amazing than I ever could.
What time does Jason come home at night?
He’s usually home by midnight but I try to be fast asleep by then. Leo, on the other hand…
How often do you eat at FIG?
I would say once or twice per month, but at least half of those meals are “take out” after our pre-service visits with J and mainly include Carolina Gold Rice and vegetables for Leo and something I’m supposed to taste test. #Blessed !
What is your favorite food to eat at FIG?
Oh man, I love the pate. It’s not something I order every time because I think it’s better suited for sharing with a table, yet too many people I’ve met have been burned by bad pate. Even if you do love it, pate for one seems like an intense order. FIG’s is the very best anyway, made with such carefully sourced ingredients and practiced technique, then served with gently toasted brioche! Piquant dijon! Perfect pickles, a little salad, fruity mustard according to whatever is at the height of its season. Fun fact: it’s the only recipe FIG doesn’t seem to share, maybe because nobody’s homemade version turns out quite like theirs.
I could go on...
How does a chef’s life (hours, physical strain, food expertise) impact a partner?
As with any partnership, the lifestyle comes with ups and downs. J’s hours at the restaurant are so long but I’ve learned to appreciate having time to do my own thing. I’m never disappointed to see him, that’s for sure, and we search for little ways to carve out some QT here and there. Learning how to balance our parental duties is a bit more complicated but I think we are calibrating as best we can.
Has Jason ever given you cooking lessons?
Not exactly, but he has given me a million indispensable tips over the years. I wouldn’t know how to hold a knife correctly if it weren’t for him. I would probably still be overcooking my eggs.
What have you learned from Jason, in terms of food? Have your culinary tastes changed since you have met?
We actually met when I worked at FIG as a host while in college, so I think we were both already on the trail of good food and followed our mutual interests from there. J’s style of cooking is all about finding the purest expression of an ingredient, and he works so hard to source only the best product. The motto goes something like, “Don’t F it up!” That’s pretty inspirational for a girl who grew up eating nothing but well-done meat and canned vegetable casseroles at all of our family get-togethers. Now my goal is to make J proud when I cook all my fave soul food dishes with righteous ingredients and as much integrity as I can muster.
Does Jason have pet peeves in regards to food prep or serving or meal times?
Yes! When he does cook at home, he likes to sit down and enjoy the food at exactly the right moment, temperature, place, etc. In a perfect world, I do too. But I am so bad about trying to do one last thing before I eat, whether it’s cleaning the kitchen or situating Leo for maximum food (and wine) enjoyment. Mom probs! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What do you cook for Jason?
Again, I’m always whipping up a big soup or stew. We seldom eat dinner together but I like to know he has a respectable midnight snack option when he gets home -- even if he ends up making a turkey sandwich instead.
What are your culinary rituals at home?
Breakfast is our family meal. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself because I end up feeding Leo popcorn and yogurt on the couch for dinner. The days are long and can feel lonely at the end; I lose start to lose my fight for civility. But I know that no matter what the night holds, we can look forward to being together in the morning, sitting (mostly) at the kitchen table while we eat our eggs, toast, coffee, cereal, juice, fruit, etc., musing on the the day or week ahead. It’s so ordinary but can be a beautiful ballet through a certain lens, i.e. if we’ve all had enough sleep.
What do you serve guests?
Tagine has historically been one of my favorite party foods! J gave me a beautiful pot for it couple years back and it makes for such a spectacular, and yet so secretly simple, feast.
Lately though, we serve guests a “party size” version of whatever we are having for breakfast or brunch (including XL omelettes) because it’s a much easier meal to host when you have a toddler who needs to go to bed on time.
What Charleston restaurants do the two of you like to go to, or do you go out? Any favorites elsewhere?
The only honest answer here is Bagel Nation on James Island for a breakfast sandwich. That might sound kitschy but we truly love it and almost always make a bagel run for guests staying with us. They cook the eggs just right every time.
We like to try something new when we have the chance to go out for a real date, and Charleston is never short on recently opened restaurants. Last great meal happened at Chubby Fish. And Renzo is still on my list of places to try...
Is Leo tasting odd, advanced, or unusual foods for a toddler?
His first real food was gravy two Thanksgivings ago. He had truffles on his omelette yesterday and liked it. He will try most things really, although rice is his most favorite so far. Hands down.
Does Leo hang out in FIG’s kitchen?
Yes, he loves to visit Papi at work! And his Uncle JoJo, and the rest of the wonderful FIG crew. Plus, he is spoon-fed all the rice he can eat while there. It’s like his personal heaven.
What is your motherly or Jason’s fatherly advice on getting kids to try a new food?
My advice is to avoid making a big fuss over eating any one thing. If a kid tries something and refuses, don’t bat an eye. But also don’t be afraid to serve it to them again, because I’m learning that tastes do change. I like to put a new food on Leo’s plate whenever possible, right next to a reliable standby. I’m sure the days of him demanding nothing but buttered noodles will come for us, too. I just hope I can stick to my guns and keep serving up greens.
I think J would say here: take your time, do use your hands, and don’t forget to chew.
How much of your conversation revolves around food?
Food is the greatest common denominator. Everything revolves around food!