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One Food Network Alum On Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Russell Jackson is good at taking himself and others out of their comfort zone.

As the chef and founder of SubCulture Dining, Chef Jackson creates dining and social experiences in unconventional spaces. He has sourced a talented and dedicated community and relied on diners who don’t mind eating at basically unattainable standards.

While Chef Jackson is now a food media guru and former ‘The Next Food Network Star,’ he has been making a name for himself since his culinary debut at the age of three. Chef Jackson will even be featured in the upcoming digital series “Off the Menu” coming soon to BravoTV.com.

Read on to learn more about how and why he started SubCulture Dining and gain insight into his culinary technique.

Tell us a little about Subculture Dining.

SubCulture Dining was born out of necessity.

I was being interviewed by Lynell George for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, of which one of the many conversations about me building a restaurant in SF crossed into the territory of asking my opinion about Underground Restaurants.

Literally a month later, SCDSF (SubCulture Dining San Francisco) was born. Three years later it was the power player in the country defining the newest paradigm in Underground Restaurants, and within five years we were making hard impressions on the restaurant community at large. At year seven, we signed the lease and raised over three million dollars to build Lafitte SF on the San Francisco Waterfront.

An accomplishment that won me “restaurant deal of the year,” Michelin and Zagat early recognition amongst the brutal attacks of social media outlets, PETA’s rogue factions, and world wide attention for my haircut now 12 years later, we have several divisions and a spin off. SubCulture Dining San Francisco, SubCulture Dining New York, and hopefully soon SCDLA.

Last year, with a handful of guest chefs and up and coming chefs I curated, we launched SCD Ronin Consortium. Following the traditions set by SCD, SCDRC allows up and comers to learn the KungFu of the Underground World to accomplish their culinary mandates and dreams. We’ve helped to launch some pretty cool businesses and look forward to a new season.

How do you approach combining food and community to create a new experience in culinary adventures?

Well I think I should start out and explain the difference between what I do and what I’m a specialist at, and what is normally done.

I run and operate “Underground Experiences.”

With that, “UGs” we create dining and social experiences in unconventional spaces in unique and sometimes unattainable standards. In short, we create dining experiences in which we are in full control. From where, when, how to why… In a conventional dining experience, you are in control of your destiny. You choose and decide most to all of those aspects and control the outcome of your experience with the assistance of the establishment you intrust. With us, you must give over to our process, and trust completely and utterly in our ability to deliver.

Over the years and most recently, I’ve come to realize my core inspiration. Thanks to spending time with my BCF (Best Chef Friend) Dominique Crenn. She helped me to come to terms with the reality that music has always been my muse, my inspiration. I’m eternally grateful to her helping me connect those dots.

I start with the most blood boiling, foot stamping, can’t help but move to it music I hear in my daily life. Once I’m set, I let the rest start to come together. I’m a huge pop culture fan and I am influenced by everything from the news, art, politics (you don’t say), to the weather and of course my irreverent sense of humor.

Then it’s really about where, when, for who and then we begin the planning on crew, food, booze, and ultimately the price tag.

I’ve obviously never done this to get rich, but creating income is an all important aspect of sustainability and respect for myself and my ronin crew (yes, I command a cut throat crew of culinary mercenaries…who else would you want by your side in a knife fight? Am I right or what?)

Creating the community is about creating a consistency that leads to trust of who and what you create. Come on, we ask people to seriously jump out of the plane (and that’s not a metaphor sometimes). You have to build trust and a following that has a willingness to walk the path you are laying out. It’s not for everyone, we know that, but our circle grows larger every day. All of my close friends and working relationships I converse with on a daily basis are all people I’ve met through SCD. I’m fortunate that they are in my life today.

You’ve been a contestant on Iron Chef America + The Next Food Network Star, what did those experiences teach you about culinary technique?

NFNS was a TV Graduate School and an insane life lesson that allowed me to once again reintegrate who I am with what I do. In a way it allowed me to reclaim my name from the idol I had become in San Francisco.

It allowed me to think that I could embrace a media career and potentially be very good at it, to teach and entertain people for positive inspiration, and to reground themselves and their families in the kitchen. I’d lost myself over the long years of building Lafitte and SCD. NFNS gave me myself back. 4 years later, I’m still decompressing from it.

I’m retired from Food Competition now, I think I’ve done my time in the meat grinder and now it’s time to continue my message in new media formats.

Describe your experience using about.me. What do you like about your page?

With my kind of work, I knew that I need the most powerful, simplified, easy to utilize web presence to allow people to find all of my media… about.me fit the bill perfectly for me.

*Header photo via Stacey Salter Moore.

Zoë Björnson is an Editorial + Social Media Coordinator with about.me. She is a graduate of Tulane University. You can find her on Twitter @kzoeb.