We had to feel a bit sad when it was announced last week that one of our favorite NYC chefs and personalities Jason Neroni was leaving his post at 10 Downing for California. The decision, which was amicable, made almost too much sense—a rare occurrence with chef transactions. His wife and 3-month-old son were moving back to their native Orange County to be closer to family. Neroni’s last day at the restaurant is Saturday, Sept. 19. We spoke to the 11-year NYC resident about the new gig, fatherhood and becoming friends with former nemesis Josh Ozersky—on Facebook at least.
It’s sad to lose you. You’re a good dude and one of New York’s better restaurant characters. When’s your last day at 10 Downing?
I will probably be relinquishing my duties tomorrow. I’m doing StarChefs events for three days, including the awards on Tuesday, and will be flying out Saturday at 7 a.m.
What’s the story about your new job in California?
I will be taking over a restaurant called Blanca, which is in North San Diego County. I made my decision to move to California, poked around, hired a head hunter and got the offer.
What will the cooking be like at Blanca?
I will be going back to the roots of the cooking I was doing at 71 [Clinton Fresh Food]. I don’t want to use the word constrained, but at 10 Downing we don’t use any soy sauce or miso, which are ingredients that are a big part of my repertoire. I look forward to using those again. Blanco is more of a fine-dining establishment, and the kitchen has pretty much every toy a chef would want, which is actually the most exciting part to me. It’s all flat tops. Two different ice cream machines. Everything you could want, ready to go.
What is also key about Blanca is that it’s located across the street from Chino Farms, which is the vegetable producer in California. It basically gave Wolfgang [Puck] and Alice Waters their produce.
So where does this leave 10 Downing?
This whole thing started when I had my son in June. My wife and I are alone in New York—we don’t have a support network here—and my wife has to go back to work and I don’t want a nanny to raise my kid. In California we have a large support network. That being said, when I spoke to the partners at 10 Downing—who also have children—they were very supportive of this. As far as who’s following me, I know they have done a number of tastings, but they have not made a final decision.
How's fatherhood? Does your son have a discerning palate yet?
His discerning palate is for mom’s breast milk, so I make sure mom is fed very well [laughing].
What’s a professional highlight from your 11 years in New York?
10 Downing was quite the accomplishment, from inception to where it is today. It will be a year open later this month and I foresee it lasting for a long time.
And it was a hell of year to open in…
Yeah. I have purveyors telling me I am buying more than anybody else in the city. I know that we are busy.
Are you at least leaving the door opening in New York?
You can never say no to New York. I tried to stay away from New York, but as they say in “The Godfather: Part III,” they keep bringing you back.
We interviewed you last November, when you said you felt like the “Paris Hilton of the food world.” Has that changed in the last year? Has there been vindication?
I think so. People have pretty much left me alone. And I have put my head down, shut up and let people start writing with a reason again. Instead of slander and gossip, they wrote what I do, which is cook. Eater, for the most part, was nice about my departure—but I still don’t know why they had to bring up my old hats. I guess that’s their job. And Josh Ozersky is a Facebook friend of mine now, go figure [laughing]. Who would have thought that three years ago.
What is your NYC legacy?
Hopefully I kept it real.
Photo by Melissa Hom