"I'm intrigued by the way TCHO works closely with cocoa farmers who are growing the actual product that makes chocolate and practice good ethics. It’s important to me to work with vendors who are transparent and are serious about quality."
Fave TCHO Chocolate:
"The milk chocolate will always be my favorite because I was a taster when the chocolate was being developed."
Fave Chocolate Cookbook:
"My favorite cookbook is called Culinary Artistry that we use in my restaurant every single week. We call it our bible."
What is your philosophy as a chef?
"There are 2 main aspects that I have for Reverence, to have an ethical and soulful impact on people's lives in a positive way."
ABOUT RUSSELL JACKSON
As a culinary innovator within the category of “Underground Restaurants” and a noted African-American chef in California cuisine, Russell Jackson is the Owner and Chef of Harlem’s fine dining restaurant, Reverence. Following graduation from the California Culinary Academy, Russell opened his first restaurant in LA, Russell's, and went on to work as a private chef for countless A-list celebrities. In 1999, Jackson moved to San Francisco to head James Beard nominated Black Cat restaurant.
During the next years, Jackson would achieve notoriety and amass a cult following through his seminal restaurant creation, SubCulture Dining, a radical underground supper-club. SubCulture Dining, known by devotees as SCD, broke culinary boundaries and earned Jackson his reputation as the Dissident Chef. Emerging from the underground scene, Jackson would go on to open SF sparkler, Lafitte. Throughout his career, Jackson has appeared on TV shows including SF Chefs, Iron Chef America battling Chef Jose Garces, and again in the Food Network Kitchens, competing for the coveted title of Food Network Star, and starring in Off the Menu, the first original Award Winning Digital for NBC/Universal on BravoTV. In 2013, Jackson moved to New York City, and in the summer of 2019, opened the doors to his most personal project, and his first NYC restaurant, Reverence. Set in the historical Harlem neighborhood, the intimate spot serves a five-course tasting menu inspired by Jackson’s West Coast roots. Jackson continues to shoot for multiple Network projects, and serves on the Board of Directors at WHEDco.org.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CHEF:
What inspired the move to Harlem, NY?
RUSSELL: I moved out to New York to work on my immediate career with Food Network, and ultimately move to Bravo and NBC Universal. I’m really fortunate to have a handful of people that have advised me like Tyler Florence who has been a great support. I would run into Tyler flying back and forth from San Francisco to New York and one of the ideas he helped guide me through was to build something and to build it in a purposeful way. There are 2 main aspects that I have for Reverence, to have an ethical and soulful impact on people's lives in a positive way.
What’s the story behind Reverence?
RUSSELL: My best friend and godmother to my son, Dominique Crenn and I had been talking about doing a project together, however, the week of my wedding, she suggested that I open up a restaurant. When I met my wife, she was living in Harlem, NY at the time, and the neighborhood she lived in allowed me to see that Harlem has the opportunity to expand and show the diversity of African American chefs and cuisines.. It’s all not just soul food.
How do you implement these goals into Reverence?
RUSSELL: I’ve never lived up to anyone's ideology or design of how to operate a restaurant. When you look at entities such as Danny Meyer’s, why doesn’t Harlem or Manhattan have Danny Meyer or Jean George? These are my hero’s, and I felt like we could establish this kind of ideology here. I live (in Harlem), and I want good food here but this area has a lot of work to do, let alone represent the African American community.
How have you seen your work impact your community?
RUSSELL: The thing that matters most is the impact we make on people’s lives. Our goal is to get people to sit down for an hour and a half without outside distraction and get grounded and feel loved and taken care of for a small period of time. There has been more than one time where our guests are in the moment, and a song comes on the sound system and someone starts to sing. There are times where the guests in the restaurant will start to sing together and it’s amazing. These are the times that remind me; I’m building a community by making food for my neighbors and providing a sense of normalcy during these tough times.
What is keeping you going?
RUSSELL: Not every day is perfect, we’ve had some difficult times and have recently experienced a hate crime against us where I have wanted to give up. Ultimately, it’s the people. We have people coming to our restaurant every week to pick up food from our restaurant and it keeps me going. My hope is that the effort and work we are doing (and our Pay it Forward program) to help us survive will be seen by our community to understand what we are doing for them. We are here for the right reasons.
How do you see yourself reinventing yourself through the current pandemic?
RUSSELL: Be flexible and rethink my overall strategy because there are things I put in place that I no longer think are appropriate for my business. I have to be more open and willing to listen but I also have to be open to morphing without losing who I am and what I truly stand for.
What kind of advice would you give to an aspiring chef?
RUSSELL: If your heart is set on being a chef, keep your mind open and truly know what you are getting into but let your journey be guided with soulful intent.
How did you discover TCHO?
RUSSELL: I was next door neighbors to TCHO when I owned Lafitte in San Francisco. Before I discovered the factory, a good friend of mine, Mani Niall, of Sweet Bar Bakery, introduced me to TCHO. It was a privilege to be a tester for TCHO during the early days. Also, having the opportunity to send my staff over to TCHO’s factory to have them trained on how chocolate was made was pretty cool.
What do you like about TCHO chocolate?
RUSSELL: I'm intrigued by the way TCHO works closely with cocoa farmers who are growing the actual product that makes chocolate and practice good ethics. It’s important to me to work with vendors who are transparent and are serious about quality.
What are some ways that your vendors and partners can support you during this time?
RUSSELL: The thing that I would ask anyone is to be more loving. Be more lenient and respectful to everyone. We are all fighting through the same pandemic, there are no winners here, we are all suffering. We all have to work through this new paradigm together.
How does TCHO fit into your philosophy of your restaurant?
RUSSELL: We are aligned with so many different aspects of our businesses, and the fact that we are a community based restaurant within a California cuisine concept. I’m not just cooking with California ingredients, it’s a greater idea of being health conscious, quality driven, seasonally driven, and ethical. All of those elements help me feel good and believe in the ingredients I’m using to feed my guests. The proof is in the food.
What's your favorite TCHO chocolate?
RUSSELL: I’m really loving the new 62% Mosaic, however, the milk chocolate will always be my favorite because I was tasting the chocolate as it was being developed.
What’s next, chef?
RUSSELL: We are launching RCA (Reverence Culinary Academy) at the end of October and reopening indoor dining in November. We are also going to be offering an expansion of ReverenceToGo and making meals for Industry and First responders through our PayItForward program in alliance with One Fair Wage as a High Road Kitchen that includes our GTFO cookie in every meal kit.
What does GTFO mean in this context?
RUSSELL: GTFO means ‘Great Tasting Food Obviously’. We call our cookie the East meets West. We use miso from Pennsylvania, flour from New York, Heckler sugar, Wholesome turbinado sugar for texture, chocolate from TCHO, and malt flakey sea salt.
RUSSELL'S RECIPES + CHEF DEMOS
BLUE CORN HOT COCOA
To cook in a Heavy Bottom Casserole Dish with Lid:
- Set the oven to 350oF.
- Add all ingredients to casserole dish/dutch oven. Close the lid and cook for 1 hour, stirring at the 30min mark with whisk
- Remove from oven, Carefully open the lid of the casserole allowing the steam to escape.
- Pour the liquid through a strainer to remove the solids for a smooth texture.
TCHO Pro Tip: For added flavor, you can add 2 Tablespoons of Vietnamese cinnamon or a dash of orange zest.
- Pour into a mug, top it off with your favorite whipped cream, a dash of cocoa nibs or chocolate shavings and enjoy!
FIND RUSSELL AT