A successful restaurant is often seen as a chef’s personal expression. Yet what if you run a hot new place that really doesn’t reflect who you are or what you do? That was a problem for the American chef and Phaidon author Jeremy Fox.
When Phaidon first signed its contract with Fox back in 2010, Fox was cooking at Ubuntu, the vegetarian Californian restaurant and accompanying yoga studio, which the New York Times described, at the time, as one of the best new restaurants in America.
Fox should have thrived, but instead he found Ubuntu to be a remarkably bad fit. “I’m not a vegetarian. I don’t practice yoga. I felt like I had to play a character there,” he told the Wall Street Journal’s Howie J Kahn at the weekend. “It made me totally crazy.” Fox took medication to deal with the stress, quit Ubuntu later that year, and tried to find a way back to the simpler, style of cookery he once loved.
As the Ohio-born chef explains in the WSJ Magazine feature, he first became interested in gastronomy while growing up in a single-parent household. His mother was away often away from home and, in her absence, he began cooking for himself. Following culinary school – he missed his final exams after being car jacked, and so never officially graduated – Fox found work in northern California, cooking elegant, contemporary vegetarian food.
Yet after his experience at Ubuntu, Fox decided, in 2012, to take a position at Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen; a wonderfully unpretentious place that co-founder Josh Loeb wanted to be “the best neighborhood restaurant in America.”
“I like places like Zuni Café or Chez Panisse,” he told the paper, “where you can look at the food and not be able to tell what year it is.” Jeremy agreed, and the partnership proved remarkably fruitful, with Fox packing incredible amounts of thought and creativity into the simplest dishes.
Loeb made Fox a partner in the business, and together with Loeb’s wife, Zoe Nathan, they have opened a handful of equally acclaimed eateries. What’s more, Fox found time to write his brilliant new cookbook, On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen, actually delivering the manuscript to Phaidon a little early!
“Being happy is a foreign concept to me,” Fox told the paper. “I never expected it, but here it is: I made a book that I love, I love the food that we do. It’s all real. No smoke and mirrors.”
Want to learn more about that simple route to culinary happiness? Then order a copy of On Vegetables here.