Regardless of where he is — the Northeast, Midwest or Southeast — Jon Fortes has a passion for fresh, regional ingredients. He has brought that passion to Charlotte as the Executive Chef at two Harper's Group restaurants, Mimosa Grill and Zink. Quietly authoritative, Fortes garners respect with his extensive culinary knowledge, experience and dedication.
Creative Loafing: How long have you been cooking? How did you get started?
Jon Fortes: I've been cooking for 17 years. I've lived in almost every state, I think, up and down the East Coast between Florida, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and now North Carolina. My mom got me started, growing up in the New England area eating a lot of seafood. We always had a big Sunday dinner. We'd take family vacations to the Cape, Vermont or Maine, and experience the hearty seafood of New England: scallops, crab, and lobster obviously, and even simple fish like skate wing or cod was a big influence.
What advice do you give to aspiring chefs?
You don't have to have 500 ingredients in any dish. Keep it simple. Buy fresh ingredients from reputable places. But don't be afraid to experiment, either. If you like two items -- say you like scallops and you like peaches and they're both great -- don't be afraid to put them together. Also, balance your dishes for saltiness, sweetness and acidity. Then think about textures: softness, heartiness and crispness.
Since you oversee two staffs, how would you describe your presence in the kitchen?
I expect a lot out of my cooks. But, I think, I'm also very patient. I've learned from a lot of different chefs and seen different ways of managing people and I don't think yelling is a way to command respect. Showing that you can work hard -- not afraid to clean, or get on the line and grind it out -- is one of the biggest things. It's about having a calming demeanor -- letting the line know they're going to get through this. Keep working hard, keep it clean, keep focused and keep calm; it's just cooking.