Restaurant Eugene turns ten this year and with it comes more change for Linton Hopkins’ growing empire. Chef de cuisine Jason Paolini was recently promoted to executive director of culinary for Resurgens Hospitality Group (Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch Public House, and Eugene Kitchen), leaving the chef de cuisine spot open for former sous chef Brian Jones (as Eater announced last week). In addition, Alex Ruwe has been promoted to director of service, overseeing both Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch. We spoke with Jones about his plans for Restaurant Eugene and the continual evolution of the restaurant.
Congratulations on your new role. What does this mean for the menu at Restaurant Eugene?
The role that I’ve been in for nine months has been a collaborative effort between Jason, Linton and I, and the rest of the sous chefs—Ben Norton and Chris Edwards. We’re very collaborative on the food, the history, and the seasonality of it. There are no big changes coming up—just more accountability for me. Jason is more focused on H&F, the foods for Delta, and the company as a whole. My focus is quality, procurement of local ingredients, and efficiency of how the kitchen operates.
And in the future?
Down the line, we all look forward to certain seasons coming so we can play with specific ingredients that we’ve come to love.
Here are some new menu items that we have added to the menu recently:
- Siberian sturgeon caviar and French omelet with sauce Nantua (The caviar is produced by Mote Conservatory in St. Pete, Fla.)
- Veal sweetbreads with yellow corn, blueberry, and sorghum
- Rabbit with fava beans, Carolina Gold, carrot, Benton’s bacon (The rabbits are produced by White Oak Pastures, and the rice is from Anson Mills.)
- Trout with shiitake fondue, wood nettle pistou, chicken crackling, and bread and butter pickle (The trout is from Bramlett Farms, the shiitakes from “My Quality Mushrooms” in Lawrenceville, the wood nettles foraged by Michael at Indian Ridge Farms, the chicken skin from White Oak Pastures and the pickles are from Holeman & Finch.)
What’s your cooking style?
I look back into history, at classic French techniques, and at what we’ve learned in the past as well as from Southern cooks. Then I look at how to exemplify that history of food with the freshness of what is growing around us.
When people come to Restaurant Eugene, they are looking for the ingredients and techniques they don’t see in other restaurants. I use a lot of foraged items: lamb's quarters, greens, kudzu, ramps. We took wood nettles and pureed them into a stew and served it with shitake mushroom fondue. We take shitakes from Lawrenceville and serve them with cured trout from North Georgia, sprinkled with chicken crackling, and bread and butter pickles.
How does your cooking differ from Jason’s?
I was born and raised in Atlanta. Jason grew up in Louisiana. Jason and I do not have a huge difference in cooking style. It always lends to a Southern element, usually something emotionally powerful. The ingredients strike an emotionally familiar [chord]. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel: just pay homage to history. There’s no Jason leaning Cajun or Creole and me leaning stereotypical Southern. It’s just us looking at the local ingredients and what’s going to be best for the guest.
There have been a lot of changes at Resugens recently. Any idea why?
This company is growing exponentially. We have a commissary kitchen that produces food for Delta, the burger stand at Turner Field, and we’re opening an H&F Burger at Ponce City Market. There comes a time and place where people feel like they need to move on, do something different, do something refreshing. Where H&F is now with Sara leading the bar is so refreshing and exciting. She has this bubbly personality and [focus on] seasonality of ingredients. She’s always asking me, “Can you find this? Can you get this?” You rarely find that at a bar.
They’re doing more smaller, more approachable plates now at Holeman & Finch. The concept has always been that head to tail mentality. They are continuing to expand on that.
Anything else we should know?
We’re celebrating Restaurant Eugene’s 10th anniversary this year. To be a restaurant for ten years of this caliber in Atlanta is an amazing thing. We’re having two dinners this year: one with Sean Brock [of Husk in Charleston] celebrating Southern vegetables, tentatively July 21. On September 3rd [tentatively], we’re having Norman Van Aken.