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Friday, May 28, 2010

Corner/Parada 22 Chef Alex Jackson Talks About Black Sheep, Due This Summer

Posted By on Fri, May 28, 2010 at 12:05 PM

Alex Jackson, chef and partner in The Corner, is accomplishing the rare feat of opening two restaurants at once. The first, a small Puerto Rican restaurant named Parada 22, opened in the Upper Haight six weeks ago ― check back next week for more information on that project. The second, Black Sheep Pub, is opening somewhere in the Mission (take a look at a sample Black Sheep menu.doc). Its status is currently in limbo (more on that below), but Jackson thinks it will open mid-summer. SFoodie talked to the chef-entrepreneur today about his background, the new restaurant, and his philosophy that more restaurants are easier to run than just one.

SFoodie: Last I heard you were the chef of Weird Fish as well as The Corner.

Jackson: My last day at Weird Fish was in March. It was a temporary thing, a favor to Timothy Holt [who owns both Weird Fish and The Corner] after the kitchen lost its focus.

So how are you opening all these restaurants at once? My cooking background is so varied, and there are so many things I want

to do. People say you can't find space in the Mission. That's not true.

There are lots of spaces. It's more a matter of finding financing. Ken

Lewis, who was the president of Bank of America, is one of my dad's

best friends. He once said that he worked harder when he had one branch

than when he had two thousand.

click to enlarge black_sheep_logo.jpg
When I had just The Corner, I was here 18 hours a day. Now I'm here 12, but that six hours makes a difference. It sounds crazy, but opening up Black Sheep will allow me to spend more time cooking. I can have the sous-chefs do all the ordering.

I don't understand chefs who get burned out. Take a step back before you burn out. Look at [Melissa Perello] at Frances. She got burned out [at Fifth Floor], so she took, like, 10 years off or something. [Ed note: it was more like two.] And I admire that. You step back, then come back with a renewed passion. I haven't burned out yet. I've been cooking for seven years, and it's just like I just started cooking yesterday. I've loved every minute of it.

I've heard Black Sheep is going to be more of a gastropub?

Yeah. Jeff Cooper, a friend of mine from Gramercy Tavern, is coming out here to be my chef de cuisine. It's going to be four courses for $32. The thing about all my restaurants is that they're going to be affordable. So Black Sheep is going to have very upscale British-style food ― $32 dollars for four courses, 50 beers on tap. What the fuck else can you ask for?

British? That's right, I read somewhere that you staged at St. John [Fergus Henderson's London restaurant, famous for "nose-to-tail" cuisine]. I was there for a year and three months. When I left Goldman Sachs, I worked at Gramercy Tavern for a year. Then I moved to Madrid, where I wrote and ate for a year, then moved to London. This was 2006. A kitchen like that, he had resumes out the ass, and I was in a position where I could work for free. No one's going to turn down free, enthusiastic labor. I went in every day at 4 a.m. to watch him break down pigs. I couldn't touch a pig for the first two months, so I went every day and was cutting up vegetables.

Do you buy whole animals at The Corner, then? It all depends. On average, I get three pigs a week. Almost all my pork is whole animal, but I'm running a pork-cheek Sloppy Joe at lunch, and I can't get enough cheeks for that off the animals I'm breaking down, so I order more. Lamb, we get whole and I break that down. We're very quietly doing whole-animal cuisine at The Corner. For the most part in this city, there's a lot of banging your chest about what you're doing. Not enough people are putting their heads down and cooking. They're too busy taking photographs for Facebook. [Laughs.]

When are you opening? We're shooting for July 15, no later than early August. The problem is that the business I'm buying is in the Mission. It's a bar-centric neighborhood, intense with bars, so they're trying to tone it down by taking liquor licenses away when a business is sold. We only have wine and beer at The Corner, so I only want the business if I can have the liquor license. We met with the ABC, and I'm going to get a final answer in two weeks. [If that goes through,] the build-out is super easy.

Last question: Where's it going to be? I'm not allowed to tell you yet. I can tell you, I can walk out of The Corner and see it.

Follow us on Twitter: @SFoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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