Suze's Jeffery Hobbs: Making Something New from the Familiar

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Like many chefs, Jeffery Hobbs fell in love with the kitchen because both his grandmother and his mother were in it. Born in Indianapolis, the 40-year-old Hobbs spent much of his time as a kid in the kitchen peeling carrots and potatoes or in the family garden picking vegetables. His professional journey began at Celebration restaurant on Lovers Lane. Next up was The Riviera, followed by Toscana, Hotel St. Germain and Il Sole. All of which brought him to where he is today, at Suze, as part of a partnership with Gilbert Garza.

Who are you? I took a creative writing class when I was a psychology major at UNT, and 99 percent of my journal entries were about food and family gatherings. I wasn't happy with the prospect of being forced to listen to people's problems for a living, so I decided to get a job in a restaurant. My first job was as a pasta maker at Olive Garden.

How did you become attracted to the cuisine you currently cook? It's pretty much what I grew up on. I'm fascinated by all cuisines; I haven't met one I didn't like. The dishes I ate when I was a child inspire what I create at Suze. I take them apart and put them back together in a different way to create something new.

How did you get this gig? I met my current business partner, Gilbert Garza, in the kitchen at Toscana about 16 years ago, where I started as a line cook and he was the executive chef. Eventually I became the sous chef. Although professionally we went our separate ways after Toscana closed, we remained friends. About eight years ago, we formed a partnership at Suze.

What's the deal with food? Food satisfies a basic need, but it can be sensual. It can be nurturing. It can be fulfilling. It can be intimate. It evokes memories. That's what it does for me. A taste or aroma can trigger a place in time. It can be as simple as dipping a chocolate chip, toasted pecan cookie in a glass of cold milk or as complicated as molecular gastronomy.

Who has eaten at your place and who do you expect to have as your guests? Prince, Laura Bush, Nolan Ryan, Darryl and Diane Johnston, Troy Aikman, Jason Garrett, Dirk Nowitzki, several mayors. When I worked at Hotel St. Germain, I cooked for the Prince of Monaco. That said, although we see many boldface names at Suze, 80 percent of our business comes from regulars in the neighborhood, some of whom dine with us almost every night.

Who works are your place? We have a very small, close-knit group. I've known some of them since they were really young; for example, I've known Isidro since he was 2, when I worked with his dad at Celebration. One of the other guys, Ernie, is an ex-Marine who served in Iraq. He's a real leader in the kitchen. Everyone up there is pretty family-oriented. I try to create a positive work atmosphere where we have a good time but we're focused on a common goal: to create a comfortable atmosphere for our guests.

But we also know how to have fun. For one of our guests, we'll make a dessert plate out of Tootsie Rolls and Milky Ways. We cut them up and make a presentation out of it. He thinks it's hilarious. We also do cream pie in the face on birthdays.

What is up with the national food scene and how does your restaurant fit into it? I think there are a lot of different things going on with food right now. There's a huge farm-to-table push. At the Riviera, we would get some of our food from nearby farms; at Celebration we did the same thing. We had a pig farmer who would bring us bushels of green beans. Now farm-to-market is a national trend. You can find the word "local" on a bottle of fucking ketchup. At Suze, we have relationships with farmers in Canton, Fort Worth and Waxahachie.

There's also an increase in awareness of food science, with modern gastronomy. It may change how I approach food but won't overhaul what I do. It just helps me refine textures and the way tastes are perceived.

If you could stab one Food Network person who would it be? Paula Deen. That Southern accent turns my screws.

If you could be best friends with one food network person who would it be? Michael Symon seems agreeable to me. I think our approaches to working in the kitchen are similar. I think Masaharu Morimoto is a bad-ass.

Why are so many people in the United States so fat? It's not just a problem with moderation. It's a combination of things. Too much corn syrup, too much sugar, too many empty calories. We have so much sugar available to us. It's all filler, and it doesn't make you feel good after you eat it. People eat too much, and it's the wrong stuff. As a chef, I don't hide from fats, but I do try to give my guests more vegetables and fewer starches on the plate.

Follow City of Ate on Twitter: @cityofate.

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