There are some chefs whose straight-up joyful love of cooking shines through in their dishes and through them. One scroll through Chef Justin Robinson aka Chef JRob’s Instagram and you immediately feel that passion.
Mobile, AL born and Atlanta, GA based, JRob’s star has been rising with stints on Chopped, Masterchef Season 10, and IronChef Showdown where he flexed fusing genres and cuisines with a distinctive Southern flair.
We caught up with JRob for Spiceology’s Periodically Inspired interview series that dives deep into a chef’s delicious creativity. Read the full interview and get to know him below:
When did you first find a love of cooking?
“It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I realized cooking was my niche. I was doing a lot of meal prep, and one day someone sent me an Instagram post by Monica Brown that she needed a chef in Atlanta. I doubted my capabilities at the time, and I had just moved to Atlanta.
But I still posted a response and asked friends to tag her to see if I could get her attention. I went to sleep that night, and when I woke up the next morning I had like 500 comments from my friends who tagged her – and yeah she saw it (laughs). I was her personal chef for four months, and that’s when I realized I was better than I thought.”
What’s your dish ideation and creation process?
“I wing that bad boy. I’ll go to the store, and it just comes to me. Like a composer on the piano, it starts as a melody and becomes a song. I allow my mind to roam and whatever sounds, smells and looks good, that’s what I do. That’s why I’m ‘The Clean Plate Chef’ – it’s a God-given talent.”
How do you approach plating a dish? Do you consider plating an art?
“Every plate is a clean canvas. I’m not the best at plating, but elevation is key. And color contrast is key, people eat with their eyes. I try to put forward something elevated.”
People around you, music, books, travel – where do you find inspiration when you create new dishes?
“When it comes to new dishes, I think everyone does their own interpretation of something they’ve seen before. When I’m watching Netflix cooking shows, I’m seeing the passion and charisma of these other chefs, getting inspired by their dishes and then putting my own twist on it. From barbecuing to fine dining to competitions, I’m a visual learner and get inspired by what’s around me.”
What advice would you give an up-and-coming culinarian just starting out?
“I’m self-taught, and for anyone trying to discover themselves all I can say is find your purpose you’ll be forever happy. Something Steve Harvey told me when I was cooking for him: ‘You’re intelligent, you’re a go-getter. Your purpose is what got you here – it’s your food and you’re rising to the opportunity.’”
How do you experiment with flavor?
“I do a back-hand taste test to see how ingredients would work together – there are so many flavor profiles to discover. I’m really big on fruit and love playing with different kinds – I use citrus and acidic fruit a lot because that tang leaves a memorable flavor note.”
What’s a spice you consider under-valued?
“Peppercorn – people need to understand the robust flavors that come off a peppercorn. It can make or break your dish. It adds a great bite to a dish.”
Do you feel competitive with other chefs?
“I feel like I’m competitive with myself, but I also love a good friendly competition and talking smack (laughs). To be the greatest in the city is my mindset, and I’ll outwork any chef I come in contact with because it’s my work ethic. You have to have the grind behind the art, and I pride myself on that. But I love building relationships among other chefs and celebrating their great take on a dish.”
What’s one of your favorite ingredients to cook with and why?
“Lime – I put lime in a lot of things that probably make no sense whatsoever (laughs). There’s something about that lime juice hitting that hot skillet. I’ll squeeze some in after browning butter – the chemical breakdown is crazy. Lime takes herb rice to another level or mojito lime cabbage.”
What’s a technique or trick you learned in school or along the way that even home cooks could use?
“You never need to boil rice. Take a catering foil pan, spray it with cooking spray, fill it a third of the way up with rice and then fill with water until your first knuckle. Cover with foil and cook in the oven at 425 for like 35-40 minutes and you’ll have the most perfect fluffy rice you could ask for.”
Favorite dish to cook for yourself?
“I just take some boxed jambalaya and sausage, and I’ll be chowing down happily.”
Favorite dish to cook for friends and family?
“My brisket hands down. I love cooking a good smoked brisket – slice it up and serve with Hawaiian rolls and pickles.”