This week we're chatting with chef Jay Bogsinke of St. Francis, who's taking some of pressure off chef/owner Aaron Chamberlin at the restaurant as he deals with his second spot, the Phoenix Public Market Cafe. On Monday, we found out what brought Bogsinke to this farm-to-table haven. If you missed that part of the interview you can read it here. Today, we get some insight into his upbringing on the south side of Chicago and find out what he's excited about for the upcoming season.
For chef Jay Bogsinke, it wasn't always about fancy foods. In fact, he very fondly recalls the simple roots and family cooking that inspired his love for all things edible.
"I didn't have anything but my mom's basted eggs for the first 20 years of my life," he says. "I didn't know there was another way to do it."
He cherishes the memories of having 30 to 40 people at his grandmother's house for the holidays and recalls seeing the house covered with freshly baked cookies cooling on paper bags.
"Everyone would leave with a tub," he says. "Food was everything."
And once he became a teenager (or was deemed old enough to work), Bogsinke says, he and his cousins became "free labor" at their uncles' and fathers' pizzerias. It was while tossing dough that Bogsinke says he realized he had a knack for the culinary arts. The revelation motivated him to "branch out," and he eventually fell in love with French cuisine.
He later would complete an apprenticeship with the American Culinary Federation, though that's the extent of his formal culinary training.
Bogsinke sees the farm-to-table fare at St. Francis as a sort of personal "renaissance" since it means returning to the unfussy, honest food he grew up with. After he spent so many years perfecting the art of making ingredients nearly unrecognizable through complicated techniques, he's excited to be doing something simpler.
He and Chamberlin share the menu-crafting duties, though Bogsinke says it's an easy collaboration since they're so "on the same page" about their visions for the restaurant. They're currently ironing out the details on seven or eight new dishes, and Bogsinke says he expects at least two or three of them to be ready to implement within the next few weeks.
"Aaron gets it close to the one yard line," Bogsinke says of their collaborative process. "Then I come and put it in the end zone."
Bogsinke is a hands-on type of chef who puts himself on the line all the time, so it's no surprise that he's amped up about the idea of dealing directly with food producers during the upcoming growing season.
But besides just the food, he says, one of things he's most excited about is being a part of this important period of growth for both of Chamberlin's restaurants. Bogsinke says the owner is assembling a team of driven culinarians, and he's excited to be there to witness it all.
"It's like [a] band of brothers," he says of the kitchen at St. Francis. "We have a lot of fun, but you have to. It's too busy to not be having fun."
The best thing about being a chef in Phoenix: There is a lot of canvas yet to be painted here; it is not yet over-saturated.
What's the best thing you ever ate: My grandma's porcupine meatballs.
Your biggest inspiration and why: My biggest inspiration is my legacy.
One thing you miss about Chicago: I miss 24/7 insane ethnic street food.
Three ingredients that you couldn't cook without: Tomato, onion, garlic.
The best thing about the Phoenix food scene is: The Phoenix food scene is small. Every chef knows every chef. Everyone knows everyone.
One thing you think Phoenix is still missing: Phoenix is still missing a street food district that people would drive across town for.
The food trend you're totally over: I am totally over molecular gastronomy.
The next big thing in culinary should be: Every kitchen should have a connection to local farms.
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Where do you see yourself in five years: I see myself cooking hard with even grayer hair.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay