When I got the opportunity to interview Chef J. Joho, I was thrilled. His formal training began as a 13-year-old apprentice for Paul Haeberlin (not a bad start), and by 23 he was the sous chef at a Michelin three-star restaurant where he commanded a 35-person staff. Chicago is one lucky town to have him as a resident chef. In Chicago he heads not one, but two restaurants: Everest (one Michelin Star) and Paris Club. You can also taste his food at Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas and Brasserie Jo in Boston. I caught up with Chef Joho to learn a bit more about his life and future plans.
Blanca Valbuena: Did you grow up cooking?
Chef J. Joho: Not particularly, but my father was a businessman who entertained many of his clients at lunch time and dinner, and so from a very young age I was impressed with the spirit of hospitality.
BV: Did you know early on that you were destined to work with food?
CJJ: I did. My parents bought my first chef’s uniform at age 6!
BV: You started your apprenticeship at 13 years old in France for Paul Haeberlin; how easy (or how difficult) were these apprenticeships to get, especially for a 13 year old?
CJJ: I did internships in cooking, pastry, baking, charcuterie, cheese making, hotel operations, then pre-apprenticeship. I learned as much as I could in as many areas as possible.
BV: You’ve run kitchens in Europe and in the US, what do you think is the biggest difference between the continents?
CJJ: One difference is that in America today there is such a huge amount of front-of-house talent who are committed to great service and have made service their career path.
BV: You have been in Chicago for at over 20 years. Why Chicago?
CJJ: I came to Chicago to re-open Maxim’s. So this became my home and I really saw the potential of staying. Since then, of course, I have opened restaurants also in Las Vegas and Boston. But Chicago is my home.
BV: Who in your life has influenced your cooking the most?
CJJ: My mentor, Paul Haeberlin.
BV: What is the biggest misconception you see from people just stepping into the field?
CJJ: They have a lot more to learn than they think!
BV: What is your best tip for a cooking novice?
CJJ: Taste your own food.
BV: What has been the biggest change to the industry, the biggest disruptor?
CJJ: The biggest change that I have seen since coming here is the availability of fresh ingredients. I have been using only American ingredients in my cooking since 1986. It is very important.
BV: There is a lot of competition in Chicago, how do you manage to stay on top?
CJJ: Competition is healthy! Every day you have to do one thing better than you did the day before. I walk into the restaurant and have something I want to change, from the very little to very big, I will always change… that’s how I go forward and how I stay competitive.
BV: What is your favorite cookbook?
BV: What is the thing that makes you most proud about your kitchens?
CJJ: The younger generation will spend time here and then go forward and become successful.
Chef Joho’s Foie Gras Terrine Alsace Vieille Prune Marinated Black Mission Figs Recipe
2 lb duck Foie Gras (Chef Joho recommends…and we agree…that you should source from D’Artagnan)
¾ lb dry Black Mission Figs
fresh ground white pepper
1 oz sugar
2 oz Port
3 oz Vieille Prune d’Alsace Eau de Vie – you can get at a specialty wine/liquor store (can substitute with a good Armagnac)
Please allow 5 days for preparation. Serves 8-12
Soak foie gras in half milk half water mixture for two hours. The liquid should cover the foie gras; this will help the foie gras to soften and become workable.
Place figs in a bowl of lukewarm water for 15 minutes; pat dry. Put the figs in between 2 layers of plastic wrap and gently pound flat to about 1/8”. Lay the figs on a tray and drizzle with the Vieille Prune d’Alsace.
Open carefully the foie gras and gently remove the nerves and blood vessels.
Place the cleaned foie gras open-faced on a tray. Sprinkle with sea salt (3/4 oz of salt per 2 lb of foie gras), 20 grams sugar and a few turns of freshly ground white pepper from a mill. Drizzle with the Port.
Let marinate one hour in a cool place (not in the refrigerator).
Build the terrine. In a 7 ¾” terrine mold place a ¾” layer of foie gras (use hands to pat evenly). Spoon a few drops of the Vielle Prune d’Alsace from the figs over the foie gras. Press a single 1/8” layer of the figs gently onto the layer of foie gras. Repeat alternating layers until you have 3 layers of foie gras and 2 layers of figs. Press gently and cover with plastic wrap pressed down on top of the terrine and refrigerate for a minimum of 12 hours.
Pre-heat oven to 250° F. Remove the plastic wrap and replace with a piece of foil; cover with the lid of the terrine. Place the terrine in a 1” water bath (lukewarm). Place on the lowest rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave in oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the terrine from the oven and the water bath. Remove the lid and foil and remove any excess fat with a spoon and reserve.
Press the terrine gently; cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Remove the press and wipe the top of the terrine clean. Cover with a thin layer of melted reserved fat. Wrap again in plastic and refrigerate for 3 or 4 days.
To serve: Remove the foie gras from the mold (hold terrine a few seconds in warm water to loosen the sides). Slice ½” pieces and place on a plate. Sprinkle with Fleur de Sel and fresh white pepper to taste. Serve with a small salad of mixed greens dressed with hazelnut and Dijon mustard vinaigrette accompanied by toasted country bread.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Gris d’Alsace