One of New York’s hottest chefs explains how cooking some of the world’s greatest cuisines inspired him to open an Italian restaurant.
Chef Chris Jaeckle has established himself among the best in New York’s deep pool of culinary talent. Having accumulated an impressive resume at some of the city’s finest restaurants, Jaeckle has spent the latter half of his career pushing the envelope on Italian food, first as chef de cuisine at Ai Fiori, which received a three-star review from the New York Times, and today as executive chef and partner at All’onda, which borrows from Japanese culture to plate an eclectic mix of dishes such as Clams Casino with panko breadcrumbs, pancetta, and parsley and Hamachi with olive oil, pepperoncini, and soy.
And to think, it all started with a taco.
“I don’t do well at things I’m not excited about,” Jaeckle says of his high school years, pointing to one particular day after school when he was making tacos from a mix. That day, he says, as he seared the meat and added the spice packet, a revelation struck him: “I think I can do this.”
Jaeckle went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, where he attained a B.A. in culinary arts.
Italian food was Jaeckle’s first true culinary love, as his grandmother was Sicilian. During his childhood, Jaeckle spent hours after school and on weekends with his Brooklyn-based grandparents. His grandmother’s garden and cooking provided Jaeckle’s initiation into what became a lifelong passion for Italian cuisine.
Still, it took some time before Jaeckle was cooking Italian professionally. He started at the renowned restaurant An American Place, and afterward found he was intrigued by Indian cuisine. He cooked for Danny Meyer’s restaurant Tabla, a modern Indian establishment, which led to a position at the restaurateur’s Eleven Madison Park, an upscale American restaurant.
From there, Jaeckle expanded his talents to include Japanese cooking, learning the art of rice and other Japanese staples at Morimoto, founded by the award-winning chef Masaharu Morimoto. Then, drawn to the Italian tradition of his family, Jaeckle moved on to Ai Fiori and, later, All’onda. Today, at the latter, he draws from his diverse culinary experience, borrowing flavors from other cuisines, especially Japanese. “My go-to comfort foods are Italian, sushi, and rice. Noodles and rice are my core passions,” Jaeckle says.
The Italian-Japanese blending is a natural fit at All’onda. Many of the dishes reflect this, including the core stock, which is Parmesan and dashi made with the kelp kombu. “I’m doing a lot of blending of flavors that are still very rooted in Italy,” he says.
The classic Italian dish Eggplant Parmigiana on All’onda’s menu uses miso, a Japanese flavoring made of fermented soybeans, while the Yellow Fin Tuna is enhanced with wasabi, the pungent Japanese condiment with a horseradish-like punch.
Jaeckle recognizes that when it comes to many of the world’s great cuisines, people like a taste of the traditional. But take it from him, a chef who has cooked it all: Sometimes customers want “the traditional things with a nuanced difference.”