She's on Fire: Chef de Cuisine Kerri Rogers
Kerri Rogers, Chef de Cuisine at Bellwether Restaurant, has been described by her boss as “tough as nails and 100 percent awesome.” We sat down with her to learn how she plans to handle the heat while running Jacksonville’s newest downtown kitchen.
How did you get started in the culinary world?
I started professionally cooking at Chew, Jon Insetta’s restaurant before Black Sheep, back in 2009. I really saw how a kitchen worked and why. I started in the dish pit, then worked my way to prep and continued to work my way up at Black Sheep. I haven't gone to culinary school and don't feel I'm hindered by that. Food has always been my passion. Everything about it draws me in.
How did you get interested in baking?
I have always been interested in baking. My mother would make cookies, cakes, brownies, all from scratch, and I got to help. It was fun, and I got to eat the reward. When I worked at Black Sheep, our pastry position needed to be filled, so I volunteered. I worked partially as pastry at Chew too, so I knew a thing or two. It was an easy transition and turned out to be an awesome experience.
What are some of the hurdles to restaurants "buying local" on a consistent basis? What could be done to help bridge this gap?
The hurdle I have to buying/supporting local is item availability and variety. It's definitely getting better, and more and more is available, but there are limits to ingredients.
As our region's food community grows, where do you see opportunities? What are the challenges?
As our food community grows, and as more and more restaurants open, I see challenges with staffing. There are a lot of new places and they're all hiring. The opportunity is that the food scene in Jacksonville is growing and we have so many new options for trying different cuisines and different markets.
From your experience, what's the biggest challenge to being a woman in the food business, especially as a chef, where men dominate the field?
The biggest challenge I find to being a woman in the kitchen is being able to lift and carry heavy items. Some cases weigh close to 100 pounds. It's important to be self-sufficient. I work out to make sure I can fully do my job.
What is your future culinary goal?
One day, I hope to open my own restaurant/bakery.
What are some character traits that have enabled you to advance in a professional kitchen?
I'm pretty agile and quick and can maneuver well on a line and in a busy kitchen. Playing team sports has helped — knowing how to work as a team and knowing how to be nimble.
What achievements make you most proud?
I'm very proud to be Chef de Cuisine at Bellwether, the new Black Sheep Group restaurant downtown. It's my largest culinary achievement to date. The menu at Bellwether has been a collaboration between Jon Insetta, Waylon Rivers and myself. Input from my coworkers tasting the food has helped as well.
Since this is the first time running a kitchen, what is your management style and how would you like your staff to describe you?
I would say my style is calm and assertive. I believe in treating people with respect and gratitude. I do not like to yell, but will get stern and to the point. My kitchen is my family away from home. I would like my staff to describe me as dedicated and focused with a great sense of humor. I want to inspire and help them.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with, and why?
If you ask a painter what her favorite color is, I don't think she'd have an answer … I love Thai food though!
To sample some of Kerri's dishes, stop by Bellwether located at 100 N Laura St. in downtown Jacksonville.