Don’t be too hard on yourself — everyone running a business is dealing with the same stress. That large business down the block that you’re envious of could be mismanaged and bleeding money every day. A busy business is not necessarily a profitable one, looks can be deceiving.
As part of our series about the lessons from Inspirational Black Chefs & Restaurateurs I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jason Fullilove.
Chef Jason Fullilove is the chef/visionary of Barbara Jean Los Angeles and current chef-in-residence at Abernethy’s, the downtown LA dining experience that features a quarterly rotation of emerging LA chefs, where he dishes up modern soul food. At Barbara Jean Los Angeles (named for his mother), Jason focuses on globally inspired soul food with an evolving menu, made from scratch dishes with natural-nutrient rich ingredients. A passion for the culinary arts took Chef Jason Fullilove from his home in Ohio to the glitz and glamour of New York, the rhythms and spices of the Caribbean where he was Chef de Cuisine at the five-star Ritz Carlton in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; to the fresh food capital of the universe: California since 2009.
Chef Fullilove has been featured on The Food Network, The Cooking Channel, Esquires Network and CBS The Talk. He’s also been featured in magazines such as 805, EaterLA, LAist, International Business Times, LA Magazine, Angeleno Magazine, Sunset Magazine and LA Times Chef of the Moment and a full-length article “pop-ups and perseverance”, as well as making the cover of LA TIMES FOOD section 2019 for his role as executive chef of the Magic Castle.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
I got my start in the business at age 15 in Massachusetts, got my first executive chef job at age 24 at a boutique hotel in Downtown Cleveland and spent several years working in New York City when I was recruited by an international luxury hotel brand and relocated to the Virgin Islands. In 2009, I moved to California in 2009 and in 2014, I had an idea for a restaurant concept and started to develop it. It started as a pop-up and grew into a residency. I was at the point in my career where I wanted to do something that was special to me that I owned. The timing seemed to be perfect.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Up until about 2015, I was really known as a fine dining chef. So, the restaurant concept I wanted to develop was taking American Soul Food and approach it with a fine dining mentality. I wanted to take traditional soul food and comfort food dishes and use fresh, seasonal, farm-to-table, handcrafted ingredients to build the menu. No one had really done that before, and I saw a space in the market that I could occupy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The man who has no imagination has no wings” — Muhamad Ali
I believe imagination and creativity in all situations in life will take you to where you want to be. Elon Musk imagined Tesla before he created it.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
Owning your own business is never easy. You have to do everything from marketing the business, developing the business, keep the lights on, pay the rent, buying the supplies, engage with customers, paying your staff. To overcome these obstacles, you have to keep a level head, trust yourself and do the work necessary to get the job done.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The dish has to be familiar in some way with new twists and refining. There has to be layers and textures to the dish, and it has to be fun to eat.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Anything my girlfriend cooks.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I’ve been working on building a large library of online cooking videos and tutorials during quarantine. The response has been amazing, and I plan on continuing this and growing it into some sort of online show.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
You have to take care of yourself. Get a hobby that will challenge you physically and mentally. I do martial arts and strength and conditioning training in my free time. Also travel as much as you can see new things meet new people.
Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?
Figure out what you want to do and put all your energy into it. Work with people who have done what you want to accomplish and learn from them.
COVID-19 has been a trying time for all of us. How are you growing your business during COVID-19?
All the restaurants I was involved in have closed. I’ve been focusing on partnering with brands to create online content as well as focusing on building the catering aspect of the business. I’ve also done several online cooking classes for various groups. In times like these, we have to be creative and resilient.
What advice do you have for any chefs who are trying to stay relevant during this time?
Focus on your social media. It’s free and can help you stay connected with your followers and fans. It will also help you develop new business opportunities and partnerships post-COVID.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
1: Before you start off on your own business you have to work and learn from the best in the business.
2: No business opens and is successful from day 1 — the grind takes time.
3: You will go farther faster if your product is superior.
4: The team you build, and your ability to lead and inspire them will make or break you.
5: Don’t be too hard on yourself — everyone running a business is dealing with the same stress. That large business down the block that you’re envious of could be mismanaged and bleeding money every day. A busy business is not necessarily a profitable one, looks can be deceiving.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
Diver Scallops | Pork Belly | Cauliflower Succotash | Smoked Carrot Puree | Calabrian Chili Hot Sauce
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want to see more African American Restaurateurs, Hoteliers, Sommeliers, Financial Backers, Investment Firms, Tech Companies and Chefs work together and build larger stronger & more cutting-edge Hospitality companies.
How can our readers further follow you online?
My instagram Page is: @ChefFullilove my website is www.JasonFullilove.com
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!