Chef Russell Jackson is no stranger to controversy. He’s been hosting a series of monthly “FU Foie Gras Dinners” at his restaurant, Lafitte (500 The Embarcadero), in honor of the soon-to-be-banned delicacy. He’s also a pretty damn nice guy.
I recently chatted with the legendary lord of the underground about his popular pier-side eatery, politics and his fundraising efforts for Hidden Valley’s Lunch Break for Schools program.
Tell us a little bit about Lunch Break for Schools and how you got involved with them?
Russell Jackson: It’s really a neat program. Having the opportunity to be a part of something that benefits children–by nature–it’s just something that we all should do. If you’re given the opportunity to do something like that you should just jump in. [When they contacted me] it was one of those surreal moments in life where someone handed me the phone and they go, ‘Hidden Valley Ranch is on the phone,’ and I was like, ‘Excuse me, what?!’ To know that they wanted to work with me especially after some of the local papers named me as the number 2 most kid-unfriendly restaurant in the city. I thought that was so funny. I got to tell you: a handful of my costumers–some of my best customers–are under the age of 15! To be able to teach children that food doesn’t have to be fried, or sweet, or packaged to be good, that’s really extraordinary.
How will this fit in with the work that you’re doing at Lafitte?
RJ: It’s in line with what I’ve stood behind my entire career: putting out good food and nourishing souls and minds and hearts. This is the first time I’m really having a conversation about it, but it’s really amazing.
Why is it in this country that getting kids to eat right seems to be political rather than a health issue:
I never thought of myself as an activist, although I have it in my family background. But it’s unbelievable how some people can just argue nonsense. There’s so many more important things to fight and argue and put our energies behind, but maybe it’s just low-hanging fruit for people to pick on. There’s got to be some sort of psychological element. Have you noticed that over the past few years people have gone from a loving, supporting state of each other to this aggressive, dog-eat-dog, super-agro, biting, attacking shtick? People just don’t have all the information. They haven’t taken the time to look at the resources to understand the bigger picture and to see what’s really going on. People are frightened of change. Everybody just wants to stay the same ’cause it feels safe. You can’t live your life that way. We’re Americans, we’re supposed to be about innovation–balls-to-the-wall, making it right for the rest of the world. We need to be leading by example and not by talking head bullshit. Some of the crap that comes out of people’s mouths is just unbelievable. It’s a crazy time.