If summer means “living is easy” to you, your kindred spirit is Chef Josh Silvers of Jackson’s Bar & Oven in Santa Rosa. But his easygoing style belies the hard work that got him to his life as chef and restaurant owner.
A self-described “punk” in his teens, Chef Josh started in the food service industry at the very bottom and worked his way up. He told some of his story to guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events before demonstrating his recipes for a summer feast.
“I love food. It’s what I think about. It’s what I talk about,” he said, relating how he reached success as chef/owner of Syrah, an early leader on the Wine Country restaurant scene, and opened Jackson’s Bar & Oven in 2010.
Chef Josh began with an ideal warm-weather starter, Summer Watermelon Gazpacho, which hit the palate as both sweet and tart with a hint of spiciness. The chef used one seedless watermelon, dicing one half and puréeing the other before mixing in diced red onions, red bell peppers, and Pasilla peppers, plus cilantro.
To “bring out the oils, which brings out the flavors” in the spices, Chef Josh heated the paprika and two types of chili powder briefly before incorporating them into the gazpacho. As a counter to the mild heat, the evening included beverages from The Republic of Tea, the premium sponsor for the chef events.
Chef Josh added that a nice touch for a dinner party would be to serve this gazpacho in Martini glasses. To ensure you relax at your party, it can be made a day ahead and actually improves in taste when it sits for a couple of hours or overnight.
The main dish, Maple & Whiskey Braised Duroc Pork with White Cheddar Grits and Sautéed Rainbow Chard, also starts the day ahead as the pork shoulder requires hours to cook and cool and the sauce takes time to simmer and strain.
To ease party preparations, he suggests trading out higher-end grits like Anson Mills for an instant variety and using a tasty local cheese to round out the flavor. And he emphasized that good whiskey is for drinking, not to be used for cooking this dish.
He closed his menu with Fresh Yellow Peach Cobbler & Vanilla Bean Chantilly Cream, suggesting that peaches shouldn’t be over-ripe for baked desserts to retain texture. For a light biscuit topping, he added, be sure not to over-mix the dough.
Chef Josh had kind words for students from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, who helped prepare and serve his dishes for guests. “They made me look good,” he said, joining a round of applause for the kitchen and service crew. Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.
Summer Watermelon Gazpacho – Serves 8
1 seedless watermelon
2 jalapeños, finely diced
2 red onions, finely diced
2 red bell peppers, finely diced
2 Pasilla peppers, finely diced
1 cup lime juice
½ bunch cilantro
2 cups simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water boiled, then cooled)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dark chili powder
1 teaspoon New Mexico chili powder
Cut the watermelon in half. Finely dice the melon from one half, then purée the other half in the blender with the syrup until smooth.
Fold the diced melon, onions, peppers and cilantro into the purée.
Add spices and season to taste. Add lime juice to taste.