Never Blue is Never Boring
Chef Jesse Roque Featured in Restaurant Hospitality Magazine
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"The food at Never Blue is approachable, fun, flavorful and totally influenced by the life and times of Jesse Roque, owner and executive chef at the Hendersonville, N.C., eatery."
Jesse Roque sat down with Tara Fitzpatrick of Restaurant Hospitality Magazine to dish on her cooking style, roots, personal life, and what it felt like to win Chef of the Year at the North Carolina Chef Showdown in 2016.
On Roque's Culinary Mixes
Although she was raised on traditional Southern food, Roque's cooking boasts influences from around the world. Cuban inspirations are a product of her Tampa roots.
Roque went on to work at the Charleston Grille inside the Charleston Place Hotel, bringing her love for Southern Eats onto the Never Blue menu - including Lowcountry crab cakes with corn-sweety drop pepper salad and Cajun remoulade.
You'll also find Mexican inspiration in Roque's dishes, thanks to her husband and business partner, Edson: "I’ve been with my husband for 15 years and when we first met, he didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. We communicated with a translation dictionary... It was a struggle to get my husband to eat Southern food. If I made shrimp and grits, or pot roast with mashed potatoes and collards, he’d say, “What is this and why are there no jalapeños?"
Her food influences lead to unique creations - Never Blue's menu features fantastic cultural mashups like fried chicken with housemade Thai cashew-peanut potion and lime-ginger sauce... but you can also find old Southern favorites like Devils on Horseback.
Though her savory concoctions can steal the show, Roque's famously decadent desserts are unparalleled, thanks to her time studying at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.
On winning Chef of the Year
Tara Fitzpatrick: How did it feel to win Chef of the Year at the North Carolina Chef Showdown?
Jesse Roque: "This was the first time both and my husband and I were out of the restaurant at the same time in nine years. It was in Raleigh and I told him, “I need you there to be my backup.” I was the only girl in the competition. I had no anticipation of doing anything extraordinary there; it was all Raleigh chefs. I was from far away; I was the lone female. And there’s an old-boy network of Southern chefs. I didn’t have any dreams of doing anything great. But then all of a sudden people were tasting my food and saying, “This is the best thing here.” When they announced that I won, I was standing off to the side, getting ready to clap for whoever won. When they said my name it still didn’t register. Then, the sea parted in front of me."
For the NCRLA Competition, all participants had to create a dish using only ingredients from North Carolina.
Jesse chose to make an unusual tostada; she paired Blue Ridge Parkway dandelion greens with candied peaches and pickled queso blanco from her own farm, Moon Forest Farm on a tostada with hole Grain Mustard Glazed Pork Cheek and Fried Okra Shavings.
"For me, vinegar is my therapy. When in doubt, I pickle it."
On Being a Female Chef
Fitzpatrick ended the interview on a personal note, asking how Roque deals with the stressful life of being a chef.
"It's a hard job for anyone because you're on display," Roque began. "It seems like everyone’s opinion matters but yours." She reflected that people are also incredibly critical women in positions of power, and she won't accept it - even in the face of rude comments or even hate mail. "I’m not going to let it bother me. My skin has gotten thicker."
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