Expo Spotlight: Chef Keith Jones
Corporate Executive Chef, Honey Smoked Fish - Tuesday on the Demo Stage
Full Name: Keith Denard Jones
Title/How you’d like to be introduced: Corporate Executive Chef for Honey Smoked Fish Holdings LLC, twice published author and Culinary Ambassador
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your history as a chef and “Eatertainment” expert:
I started in the kitchen of a mentor (CMC Edward Janos) at 17 and he was the most wonderful mentor a kid could have. I stayed with him for a little over 8 years and he kicked me out of the proverbial nest (in a suburb of Detroit) and sent me on my way to Denver.
Next I was hired by Club Corporation of America (CCA), where the property was The Metropolitan Club, and I stayed with them for about 10 years. Five of those years I was a regional chef and that’s where “Eatertainment” was born.
One of our Board of Directors entertained their clients exclusively at the club and always asked me to come and visit, saying I was the best entertainer around, calling me her “Eatertainer.” I just naturally expanded her compliment and created my own version of “Eatertainment” which was my first TV show. I used to enjoy visiting with guests in the dining room. You can comfortably and confidently do that when you are serious and passionate about your craft and you have a great staff/team that supports your efforts!
You’re the Corporate/Executive Chef for the Honey Smoked Fish Company. What projects have you been working on lately?
Unfortunately, we have been hit extremely hard just like the rest of the world and I got furloughed in March 20, 2020. Pre-pandemic, I spent the majority of my time working with our wholesale customers nationwide. As everyone knows, that business feel off the map (so to speak), so we had to shift our focus and go after the retail side of our business which seemingly exploded overnight. Company management came together and developed strategies to speak to that side of our business.
Social media and marketing are the ticket, so I’ve been spending a lot of my time creating all kind of videos highlighting the convenience of using our Honey Smoked Salmon. We’ve also invested in training tapes and supportive materials that will be used to help educate the retail store staffs on all the wonderful and positive virtues of our products. As you know around the same time, travel was non-existent so we couldn’t go out to perform any live trainings.
I’ve also made a point to try to contact one of my industry friends a week just to say hello and have a quick conversation to let them know I’m thinking about them. It has been so rewarding and therapeutic to touch bases with them and every single one has been so appreciative…..nothing but goodness all around!
You’ve been coming to the Mid-America Restaurant Expo for a few years now. What are your thoughts on the show?
Since I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Ohio is right next door, so coming to this show always brings me joy and excitement like I’m coming home!
There’s a great sense of genuineness from most everyone whom I come in contact with. Show management (Debra Sieple and her team) do the absolute best job of any of the shows we attend, and we attend a lot. I’ve slowly gotten to know other staff members of the Ohio Restaurant Association (Shoshanna Gross and Homa Moheimani) just to acknowledge a couple, and I so enjoy their passion, professionalism, attention to detail and dedication to the overall guest experience.
It seems like every year you raise the proverbial bar and believe me, I know how hard and exhaustive that can be; so kudos and a HUGE THANK YOU to ORA and your entire team!
What are you looking forward to most at the 2021 Expo?
This year, it’s quite simple:
1) Live interaction with everyone involved (guests, young culinarians, vendors, management and staffs)
2) My Demonstration time on the stage (hopefully with a few surprises)
3) Superman Ice Cream (my guilty pleasure) I know I can find back here at this show as it’s not available everywhere. I often times ask random people what’s the best flavor of ice cream and when I correct them with Superman, they look at me with this inquisitive expression like what am I talking about? Little do they know!
What’s it like for you to cook for a live audience while also educating AND entertaining them?
It is an absolute honor that I hold in the highest regard. I have a fascinating story as to why. For this one, you must come to my session and I promise I’ll share. Definitely worth it.
Any sneak peak as to what you’ll share with Expo attendees in November?
I typically work off the energy from the crowd. Most times I have a soft script going in but with this being live after such a long and painful absence, I’m looking forward to going off-script and having fun with everyone! Of course I’ll bring some Honey Smoked Salmon (which is the best hot smoked salmon anywhere), and a surprise or two!
You recently released a new book. Share with us a little bit about what’s in the book.
The title is Well Done and it’s an entertaining memoir of a significant portion of my culinary journey. I’ve learned so many truly valuable lessons along the way that I wanted to chronicle them and leave a legacy for all of my colleagues, future generations and anyone who dares to dream. Even though it’s rooted in the culinary industry, the lessons are life lessons and make for a great gift for any young person starting out in their chosen field, anyone changing careers and those who enjoy a good book!
How has your background and upbringing as a black man influenced your approach to cooking and working with food?
I was born and raised in the ghetto of Detroit with very little means. The three people who had the greatest influence over me in my culinary career, my mother, grandmother and mentor (CMC Edward Janos) were all extremely passionate about food and their love of cooking.
My mom and grandmother weren’t formally trained by any means but they were skilled at soul food cooking (which is what we ate) and we had spectacular meals on a daily basis…..food was their thing. Along with every meal, love was a key ingredient. They were serious about each and every meal they prepared and ALWAYS had an open-door policy, willing to feed anyone in need.
Ed, on the other hand, was all about classical French cooking and gave me my first Escoffier cookbook. He told me to study and learn this and once I did everything would make sense and my real food journey would begin.
How fortunate was I to be guided by these three wonderful and skilled culinarians? Their messages were all subliminal; Let your passion lead the way, Respect the food you’re cooking and the money it takes to purchase it, don’t waste anything and every time you step into the kitchen to cook something be serious about it and do the best you can.
What’s something about you that surprises people?
That I’m a cancer survivor. I had oral cancer as a young child and it had a lasting impact on me.
What’s something inspiring for you this past year that you'd like to share with Ohio Restaurant Association (ORA) members, which are restaurant and foodservice owners and operators in the industry?
Right from the very beginning of the shock and uncertainty from the pandemic, I made the commitment to see the positive out of this very negative situation. Throughout all the darkness, find the light and to make lemonade out of the terrible pandemic lemons that life was serving!
I started at the outset to work on my mental and physical health (put my own little programs in place) as well as took on a couple of personal projects that I was itching to do.
My second book Well Done was an unpolished manuscript, but I buckled down and got that done. I have another book on my computer that’s ¾ of the way developed and I’ll finish it by fourth quarter 2022.
Lastly, I got with 2 different production groups to work on TV show pilots……one never got off the ground, but then I was blessed to connect with a fabulous team and we’re shopping it as we speak.
Now, I’d like to give it up and salute each and every one of you: THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS for successfully doing whatever you had to do to survive the pandemic. You are not alone and we’re all in this together! Sounds so cliché but it is so true. Each survival story is motivation and inspiration on its own. What continues to inspire and brings me hope is the belief in an epic and unbelievable COMEBACK! Life will balance this tragedy out.
For my part, I’m a party to our recovery in my own little way. I show my local restaurants and our culinary community in general as much love as I can! I’ll try to order out a few times a week, tip at least 30% and ALWAYS share a kind word on every exchange. I see it and feel it all throughout the culinary industry, that never say die will and spirit. The pandemic may have knocked us down but not out!
We’re slowly getting off the mat and back into the ring with the knowledge that so many people are counting on us and will do their part to help us recover. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen overnight and it certainly won’t correct itself overnight, it’s going to take some time. During this healing and recovery process, please be kind to yourself and team and try to put programs in place that address these extraordinary times. Proper mental and physical health is the answer and high on the list as we make our way back to normal(old or new.)
I strongly encourage everyone to take the lemonade approach, meaning do whatever you can to make lemonade out of the lemons the pandemic has dealt us. There are so many good people out here willing to help, open up and communicate. Again, you are not alone and we’re all in this together!
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Not that I cook this often but I’m a huge lobster fan and either my Lobster Enchilada with Jalapeno Marmalade (recipe is in the book) or Lobster Salad with a Vanilla Vinaigrette.
What’s your favorite thing to eat?
I’m really simple in terms of my favorites and a sucker for most things fried. My mom’s fried chicken or shrimp and then a really close second pan sauteed Yellow Lake Perch or Walleye Pike