Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with local chefs.
As chef and co-owner at Red Herring Cocktail Lounge and Kitchen, Jacob Coronado likes opening people’s minds by way of their palates.
Using imaginative ways to use locally sourced ingredients, he has found he can help someone appreciate an ingredient in a new way. He did just that with his own father. Coronado, a Houston native, was hosting his dad on a visit to Louisville and took him to brunch at Harvest, a restaurant known for its focus on sustainable ingredients.
Coronado’s father ordered “something Tex-Mex” and loved it.
“I said, ‘These are locally sourced ingredients,’” Coronado recalls. “’You can eat these types of things and eat them in a better way.’”
“In a better way” meaning fresh and local, not processed. Coronado loves making mouths and bellies happy using healthful and sometimes unexpected foods, and that comes from personal experience.
At age 16, he had little interest in food until a friend who was in culinary school coaxed him into eating some specially made chicken marsala. The catch was that it contained onions and mushrooms — two things Coronado loathed at the time. And yet, he loved the dish.
“I learned a couple things from that,” he says with a chuckle. “One, OK, I’m a believer that everything has its place; it’s how you eat it.”
More importantly, the chicken marsala appeared before Coronado without a recipe, another eye-opening lesson for him.
“He worked with what he had to create it,” Coronado says. “I was like, ‘Where was the recipe?’ He said, ‘It’s just a standard way of cooking. If you don’t have this, add this.’ So, then there was this subtle thought that I can express myself through food. I can be creative? That’s when I started taking it seriously.”
Coronado went on to a stint at Roof, a rooftop restaurant at the Wit Hotel in Chicago, then as chef de cuisine at the Overlook Restaurant in The Cosmopolitan, a hotel in Las Vegas. He came to Louisville in 2014, joining 8UP as chef de cuisine and later executive chef.
Last year, he helped open Red Herring, and in November became a co-owner along with bar manager Clay Livingston and original investor Mo Deljoo. He says the transition from chef to chef/owner has been a “learning process,” with plenty of added responsibility and being forced to look at a bigger picture. But he’s not complaining.
Part of the transition was to make over the food menu — Red Herring’s main focus is on its extensive spirits and cocktail program — although a couple of old favorites remain. One is the grilled cheese, which includes house-made mozzarella, herbed cream cheese and St. Jerome cheese from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese that Coronado says “adds the big savory flavor that’s needed.”
He says more and more people are coming in and mentioning it.
Another staple is The Burger, made with Black Hawk Farms beef and house-made pimento cheese, and so named because it was arduously tested and re-tested by Coronado and his team over the course of a week and a half.
“It was 10 days of eating burgers,” he says. “We put a dent in some beef, but we finally perfected it.”
A newcomer, from the Bar Bites menu, is the Lou Dog, a weird riff on a Hot Brown, with a bacon-wrapped turkey dog being topped with a house-made version of mornay sauce that closely resembles Cheez Whiz, making it “100 percent that delicious bar hot dog you crave.”
Of course, all this work is time-consuming, meaning days off can be scarce, as with any chef and/or restaurant owner. His last birthday was a memorable such day, assuming it counts as a “day off” — the Red Herring team arranged for him to spend a day at one of his favorite farms from which to source, Pavel’s Garden.
He spent a day helping with a harvest, got dirty, learned a lot and walked away with a whole lot of carrots and other produce, which he used in his recipes at Red Herring. The experience only reinforced his commitment to sourcing food locally.
Other days off are different, however, likely including long walks and porch-sitting with his dog Brooksy, a Rhodesian ridgeback/pit bull mix, an animal he seems to love as much as cooking.
“One of the starts to a day off is eggs,” he says. “We both eat eggs.”
She knows it’s walk time when Coronado puts on a certain pair of pants: “She starts bouncing. She knows it’s going to be a good day.”
Long walks notwithstanding, he also feels work days are good days, in large part because of the staff he and Livingston have assembled, one which Coronado says bucks a general industry trend. It is one more lesson in a life lived learning and applying what’s available, from food to wisdom.
“What I love about this place is the level of camaraderie we have,” he says. “There’s that infamous front-of-house, back-of-house bumping heads. But we all help, we all do dishes, you’ll see me behind the bar now and again, or busing tables. I’ve never worked in a place where there’s so much camaraderie. That’s a real cool thing, and that makes me happy.”