Chef Jonathan Bennett is the popular executive chef at Moxie and its sister restaurant, Red, the well-liked east side destinations that have received praises in Gourmet, Esquire and Playboy. Bennett has been with Moxie since 1997 when he started as a sous chef.
1. What are the top 5 spices every home chef should have? Whole black tellecherry peppercorns (so much better than pre-ground), crushed red pepper (really can pick up a boring vegetable), fennel seed (love it on veggies, fish, pork, chicken, etc.), thyme (backbone for so many braises, stews and such) and cumin (can’t have that “true” Mexican flavor without it).
2. What is your favorite and least favorite thing to make? Favorite – anything roasted, least – consommé.
3. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? Favorite – the people, least – weather.
4. If you could cook for one person, real or dead, who would it be? My mother.
5. You’re having a dinner party, top 5 songs on your play list? Alison Kraus – The Lucky One; Bonnie Raitt – Dimming of the Day; Dave Matthews Band – Bartender; Jerry Garcia, David Grisman & Tony Rice (Pizza Tapes) – Amazing Grace; Nora Jones – Feeling the Same Way; Willie Nelson – The Party’s Over (sure let’s people know when to leave).
6. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? Without getting into trouble with some of my friends, I will stick to ethnic – Bangkok Thai on Mayfield Road.
7. What restaurant do you miss? Sticks – love that BBQ.
8. What hidden gem have Clevelanders yet to discover? Moosehead in Westlake.
9. What’s your last meal on Earth? A Pig Pickin’ (or better known as a pig roast above the Mason-Dixon Line).
10. Most unusual food you have ever tried? Chicken brains; didn’t go back for seconds.
11. Most famous person you have cooked for? Cooked a burger for Dave Thomas (most ironic) and for George W. Bush (most famous, liked or not).
12. If someone hasn’t been to Moxie in awhile, what can they expect to find that’s different? We’ve been slowing upgrading the look of the space, tableware and food consistency.
13. What’s your favorite cheese on the menu? Right now, Timberdoodle from Woodcock Farms in Weston, VT (timberdoodle is another name for the woodcock bird).
14. Where do you grocery shop? Heinen’s and some local farms around my house in Bay.
15. Favorite guilty please when it comes to food? Sweets – any kind, any time.
16. What is the one thing you learned from working with Doug Katz that you will always remember? He really reminded me that you can use tried and true classical techniques in the real world today.
17. How much of your menu features items from local farmers and which farmers do you frequent the most? Winter 10 percent and summer between 30 and 40 percent. I like Pickering Hill, Nagel Farms, Speigleburg, Veggie Valley, Patterson, and a few others on the west side.
18. If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? Architect. The two are so similar – we design and build for the enjoyment of others, per se.
19. If you could have one chef leave their post and come work for you, who would it be? Tough question. I don’t know if that is possible, but if I must choose, it would have to be Thomas Keller. The man has such a solid foundation of skills, but I’d rather him work with me not for me.