Friday, March 22, 2013
Chef Terance Jenkins finds “comfort” in his role at Jack’s
He feels his gram ma-ma's presence as he cooks.
GREENVILLE AVENUE At 7 p.m. on a Monday, 19-year-old Terance Jenkins packed three days’ worth of clothes and his kitchen knives into a black Honda Accord. He then picked up his girlfriend, niece, and her college friend and started what should have been a nine hour drive from New Orleans to Orlando to escape the incoming storm: Hurricane Katrina. The drive would end up being 24 hours of uncertainty accompanied by music from Beyoncé.
Two days later, the four huddled around a TV and watched the devastation of the storm on CNN. They learned that their home was lost and their lives were changed forever.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Jenkins.
Today, the 26-year-old is the executive chef at the new restaurant, Jack’s Southern Comfort, on lower Greenville. At the restaurant, he brings his Cajun and creole roots into his dishes to give Dallas customers a taste of New Orleans cuisine.
“I want people in Dallas to know that they can come somewhere and ‘laissez-les bon temps rouler’,” said Jenkins. “We want people to be comfortable and feel like they’re at home.”
Jenkins had a passion for cooking that began when he was 9 years old. While his friends would play in the backyard, he would hurry inside to help his “gram ma-ma” cook in the kitchen. At the young age of 14, Jenkins landed his first job as a chef at the New Orleans restaurant Bella Luna. A few years later, his skills earned him a job as a chef at one of the most famous restaurants in the city, Commander’s Palace.
A week after Hurricane Katrina, Jenkins moved to Dallas, where his sister lived, and restarted his career. In Dallas, he has worked many high-end restaurants, including The Mansion on Turtle Creek where he was a sous chef and The Screen Door where he was the executive chef. It was at the Screen Door where his relationship with Scott Jones began.
Jones, one of the former owners of the Screen Door, sold his ownership because he wanted to open a new restaurant: Jack’s Southern Comfort. He said that before he opened the restaurant, he got in touch with Jenkins.
Jenkins recounted the conversation and said that Jones said,“’Terance. I’m opening a concept that I’m thinking you’ll like.’ I knew this would be perfect. We started bouncing ideas off of each other and it was perfect.”
Jack’s Southern Comfort is a mix of Texas comfort food and Louisiana cooking with dishes that range from chili and fried chicken, all the way to gumbo and shrimp ‘n grits. The two co-workers frequently visit customers’ tables to ask them about their food, experience and sometimes just to talk and be friendly.
“He’s the same now as he was before,” said Jones, “talented, energetic, young, great personality and easy to work with.”
Chef, as he has become known by the rest of the employees, truly is talented and energetic. His award-winning gumbo, which is a family recipe that he has modified over the years, is so delicious it will earn the praise of some of the most stubborn “foodies” of New Orleans.
As for energy, Chef always wears a smile complemented by a worn New Orleans Saints baseball cap, and he can be heard in the kitchen singing made up songs about chili or whatever happens to be on his mind.
Jack’s Southern Comfort opened in October of last year, and the two friends have been very pleased with the popularity of the restaurant.
“It’s just a real happy experience,” said Jones. “I’m enjoying this restaurant more than any restaurant that I’ve ever opened. There are difficulties and challenges, but, if you’re going to have them, it’s good to have them with the people you want to share the good and bad with.”
And the restaurant has even affected those at SMU. Journalism professor Mark Vamos wrote in a review of the restaurant for “Dining Guide” that, “Jack’s is a labor of love, and it shows."
Chef works many 14 hour days at the restaurant, but says that he enjoys every minute of it. Whether he’s making his self-named gumbo or fried chicken, he always thinks back to cooking when he was a young boy in New Orleans.
“This is the first place I’ve worked,” said Jenkins softly, “where I felt my gram ma-ma’s presence the entire day.”
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