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 Of course, it didn’t hurt that at the time, California had a law (since repealed) against allowing bars to sell house-infused spirits.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.

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