Rebel Chef, Cocktail Prodigy

Although Russell Jackson is not a bartender, he developed some thought-provoking cocktails.

Russell Jackson, previously chef/owner of Lafitte restaurant in San Francisco, is proud to be a polarizing figure.

When the acclaimed restaurant closed in April 2012, many wondered what Jackson would do next. Rumblings began about plans for pop-up restaurant projects in San Francisco and New York City.

Among other things, the chef began hosting a series of “FU Foie Gras” dinners—complete with foie gras martinis—leading up to the delicacy’s outlaw in California beginning
July 1.

Did someone say “foie gras martini”? That’s right: Although Jackson is not a bartender—in fact, he’s been proudly sober for nearly 25 years—he developed some thought-provoking cocktails during his Lafitte years. Known for his visceral cooking style and overcaffeinated demeanor (he skydives to relax!), Jackson even took on a “capirinha-a-day” experiment for a month, aspiring to never repeat flavor combinations throughout the month. He infused cachaça with seasonal ingredients, creating eccentric cocktails using sweet corn and thyme, and even muddled watermelon and grape Kool-Aid.

“I’m always looking for things to challenge me—not that I don’t already lead a challenging life,” Jackson says. “And I didn’t want a generic liquor program. I wanted the stories, the interesting elements.” Of course, it didn’t hurt that at the time, California had a law (since repealed) against allowing bars to sell house-infused spirits. Jackson readily admits that it appealed to his rebellious spirit to find a way around the infusions law.

After running restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a storied past as a roadie chef to rock bands—such as the Counting Crows—and a private chef to billionaire households (including one Fortune 500 CEO who was just released from jail), many are betting there’s life after Lafitte for Jackson. No doubt, he’ll find a way to stir up trouble in his next gig too.

Published on August 2, 2012
Topics: Bar Scene, Cocktail Trends, Food Trends
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of Shake.Stir.Sip.: 40 Effortless Cocktails Made In Equal Parts (Chronicle Books, coming fall 2016) as well as Cocktails for a Crowd (Chronicle Books, 2013).   Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net



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