Acclaimed NYC chef Jesse Schenker chose food over drugs, something his new book – All or Nothing: One Chef’s Appetite for the Extreme – chronicles and celebrates. Schenker’s culinary talents can be seen both at Recette and the recently opened spot The Gander, which features delicious twists on American cuisine. We talked with Schenker about the moment he decided to overcome his drug addiction, and why when it comes to his life, it’s always been all or nothing…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
Breakfast would be a double espresso and bagel. Lunch would be anything with my son Eddie at the park, and dinner would be the omakase at Soto.
Your new book chronicles your journey overcoming a bad drug habit, and embracing you passion for cooking instead. Was there an ‘aha’ moment that made that possible?
While getting arrested, I heard Pearl Jam’s “Alive” on the radio in the cop car. Instead of being scared, I felt peaceful, almost relieved. I knew I was going to get my life back – including cooking.
What about cooking made abandoning drugs possible?
For me, it’s “all or none,” so I went all the way with food, and decided to have nothing to do with drugs. They became opposite ends of the spectrum for me. Once I had hit rock bottom and knew I was done with drugs, I was reunited with cooking and there was no turning back for me.
What’s something in both of your spaces that screams ‘Jesse?’
Your favorite childhood food memory?
Definitely cooking with my grandmother while standing on a step stool.
An easy go-to weeknight recipe in three steps…
1. Brown chicken in a Dutch oven, then remove.
2. Caramelize seasonal vegetables and herbs in same pot, then add chicken. Season with salt and pepper liberally.
3. Cover with cold water and simmer for 1.5 hours. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy.
Who is someone you admire outside of food and why?
My wife because she does it all.
Must-try items at The Gander and Recette…
At The Gander, the Wedge Salad, and Spaghetti & Clams. At Recette, Cod Fritters, Raviolo, and S’mores.
Words to cook by…
It’s all about the details.
One thing you refuse to put on your menus…
Squash or zucchini.
What are your favorite cities for food?
New York; there’s nothing better.
What restaurants do you go to in each?
In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what is ‘the new potato’ in food right now?
Single concept restaurants.
*For Jesse’s recipe for Roasted Branzino, Click Here
*Jesse Schenker, photographed at The Gander in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann.