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SUIVRE HAMPTON WATER

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Jon Bon Jovi, Jesse Bongiovi, Ali Thomas & Gérard Bertrand.

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  • ◾ WHAT BRINGS YOU TO JBJ SOUL KITCHEN?
    Chef José Andrés is one of my heroes, not only in the culinary sense, but also in the sense of “good human being”. He founded an organization called World Central Kitchen, which is a response team in major disaster areas, to provide freshly prepared healthy meals directly to people affected by all kinds of disasters and emergencies. There were many times when I felt like dropping everything, grabbing a suitcase, rolling my knife, and jumping on a plane to help his team. However, this is not very realistic because my duties as a husband, father and coach would prevent me from doing so. When the opportunity at JBJ Soul Kitchen came up, I couldn't say no because it's a very similar business and is right in my backyard, an absolute win-win.
  • ◾ WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO START COOKING?
    Growing up, I was lucky enough to have my grandparents living with us. My grandmother and my mother always cooked dinner, so I was exposed to a lot of things growing up, mainly Italian-American and Polish cuisine. Seafood was also popular in my household, since I grew up in Point Pleasant, not far from Barnegat Bay. In the summer, I would go crabbing with my brother, my mother and my grandfather, and we would clean them and cook them that day. Nothing beats such fresh seafood! We also had a very large family, so holidays were always a big deal. Days would be spent preparing food for three times the number of people we would actually host. My interest waned for a while, mostly due to the busy hours and the ease of great food everywhere in Hoboken. It picked up after I got a job as a data center technician working shifts - 10 hours a day, 4 days a week; a great schedule that gave me Mondays off. I started hosting watch parties for Monday Night Football, spending the day shopping and cooking a full meal for about a dozen friends every week. It lasted a few years until I moved to Bayonne and soon after, in 2009, the recession hit and I was made redundant. It gave me plenty of free time to watch cooking shows and wander to the grocery store to try out recipes for my girlfriend. Sometimes they were a hit, sometimes we ended up ordering takeout, but there was enough success that she ended up being my wife!
  • ◾ WHAT MAKES JBJ SOUL KITCHEN DIFFERENT FROM ANOTHER STREET RESTAURANT?
    There are so many answers to this one, for me the most important thing is how you feel at the end of the night. No matter how good or bad I had a day, I can look at our diners and feel their gratitude. Food has incredible power not only to connect us, but also to lift our spirits. Something as simple as a freshly prepared three-course meal might not seem like a lot to most of us, but for some it can be the highlight of their day or even their week. It offers them hope that tomorrow will be a better day. The other important thing is people. Our volunteers are an amazing group of people and they all want to be here to help and learn. This kind of attitude is contagious and really helps to lift your spirits. There aren't many restaurants you can walk into, and you can ask each person, "Is there another place you'd rather be at right now?" And not having a single person answer "No".
  • ◾ WHAT DO YOU TELL SOMEONE TO HAVE DINNER AND/OR VOLUNTEERING?
    I find that all I have to do is tell people about us. Once people hear our mission statement and what we do for the community, the two most common responses I get are, "You know, I heard about JBJ Soul Kitchen, I wanted to quit over there for dinner!" And, "Oh wow, that sounds amazing, how do I sign up to volunteer?
  • ◾ TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF MOST PEOPLE PROBABLY DON'T KNOW!
    As I mentioned earlier, the restaurant industry was not my first career choice. I was a network engineer working for a financial services company for about 15 years. My wife and I moved to Middletown about 12 years ago and we both commuted to New York for work. It was difficult, but we succeeded. Then our first son was born and we soon realized something had to change. I had started doing side-by-side catering gigs, backyard BBQs and more, but still had no restaurant experience and certainly no proper training. Then the signs started to line up. I had no desire to pursue the career path that was from engineer to engineering management. It wasn't for me. After a year, I put my leave, took time for my family, and this spring semester, I enrolled in the culinary arts program at Brookdale Community College, and the rest belongs to history!
jesse bongiovi
jon bon jovi
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