UP-CLOSE AND PERSONAL INTERVIEW WITH ACCLAIMED CHEF, JASON KNIBB, WHO IS AT THE HELM OF NINE-TEN RESTAURANT LA JOLLA
Chef Jason joined the team of La Jolla's NINE-TEN Restaurant in 2003, spending more than two decades at one of San Diego's premiere "farm-to-table" restaurants. Jamaican-born, he came to the US at the age of nine. Self-trained, Jason put in his time rising through the ranks and learning his craft in the kitchens of some of the most celebrated chefs in the country including Wolfgang Puck, Roy Yamaguchi, Hans Rockenwagner, and San Diego's own, Trey Foshee. We had the unique opportunity to sit down with Chef Jason and learn more about his amazing career, what inspires him, and his vision and predictions about San Diego's food scene.
- Tell me a little about the history of the restaurant -- when it opened, its owners, and how it has changed or evolved through the years.
- NINE-TEN opened on July 17th, 2001. We are owned by a local family from Rancho Santa Fe who also own the Grande Colonial Hotel, which is where the restaurant is located.
- What kind of clientele does the restaurant have -- mainly tourists or loyal locals?
- The majority of our patrons are local La Jollans who really use us as an extension of their own kitchen, visiting multiple times each week for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch. We are also considered a "special occasion" restaurant so many people who live in other parts of San Diego will visit when celebrating something special or entertaining out-of-town guests. And lastly, we have wonderful relationships with the concierge at all the hotels in the City. So when their hotel guests are looking for a great restaurant, NINE-TEN is at the top of their recommended list.
- What sets the restaurant apart from other restaurants in San Diego and La Jolla?
- NINE-TEN was one of the premiere "farm-to-table" restaurants in San Diego, leading the way for so many other restaurants. We still cook within the season and use what is available in our own backyard. In San Diego, we have some of the best farmers around. We still source local products as best as we can for our menus, staying true to the core values the restaurant was built upon. In terms of what sets us apart, I think it's our consistency. We have remained true to who we are and what we do best since we opened our doors in 2001. That consistency in the food and the service delivery is what sets us apart and brings our guests back multiple times each week.
- Tell me about the "Mercy of the Chef" special tasting menu.
- Our "Mercy of the Chef" tasting menu is very popular with our dinner guests. It's truly the ideal way to experience all the best of what we put out of the NINE-TEN kitchen. It's a lot of fun and adventurous and you really get to try many more of my culinary creations than if you were to just order the typical three-course dinner. The menu will change nightly depending on what is in season. I personally visit the local farms several days each week and plan my creations around their harvests. And our staff Sommelier, Chris Russo, will recommend wine pairings with each course.
- What is your kitchen philosophy?
- My philosophy about cooking is simple: keep things simple, using the best, freshest, local ingredients available. I find the most culinary pleasure in blending an eclectic mix of classic techniques with modern styles inspired by the ethnic diversities of San Diego and the surrounding region. Couple that with my vision of new American cuisine by taking traditional dishes and giving them a simple, elegant twist.
- How has your menu changed over the years? And what has stayed the same?
- We are constantly changing with each season. But there are a few items that have withstood the test of time: Hamachi Sashimi marinated baby shiitake mushrooms, scallion vinaigrette; the Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly with baby carrots, Swiss chard, plantains, black-eyed peas, spicy jellies & sweet potato purée. And now the Cacio e Pepe dish may be one of those dishes ten years from now. All of the other dishes seem to evolve each season, whether it's just changing ingredients, plating, or the entire dish.
- What is your favorite item on the menu?
- It changes depending on the mood. But I would probably agree with our guests who rave about the Hamachi Sashimi, the Jerk Pork Belly, and the Cacio e Pepe.
- What do you think are the current food trends, and are you utilizing these trends in your kitchen?
- It seems to be all about regional and heritage foods. If you are a Mexican chef, you're cooking Mexican with a more modem, local approach. I think we have been doing that for several years now, pulling from my Jamaican heritage – using some of the spices and techniques from my region, without turning NINE-TEN into a modern Jamaican restaurant.
- What are some of your proudest moments as a chef?
- Throughout my career, the restaurant has garnered hundreds of press and media accolades, but my proudest moments include receiving Michelin California Guide "Plate Distinction"; ZAGAT's "very good to excellent" rating; San Diego's Chef of the Year Award from the California Restaurant Association, and StarChef's Rising Star Chef (one of only two local chefs to be recognized). I was also a contender on Iron Chef, battling Bobby Flay in a seafood showdown, which was an amazing experience.
- Any plans for more TV appearances or chef competitions?
- No plans at the moment. But I would certainly consider anything that comes across my desk. Honestly, though, I'm not a chef who migrates toward all the pomp and circumstance. I just like to be in the kitchen cooking!
- You've been at NINE-TEN for more than 20 years. What keeps you inspired to stay?
- With so many other chefs racing from kitchen to kitchen, I'm a bit of an anomaly, crediting my longevity at NINE-TEN to a combination of working with good people and being allowed total creative freedom with my cuisine.