Janine Booth tried to avoid the restaurant industry and failed. Born to restaurateurs in Perth, the urban heart of Western Australia’s wine country, Booth spent several years dabbling in public relations, teaching, and even traditional medicine, which isn’t actually that different than what she’s up to these days. Root & Bone, the Manhattan restaurant she opened with fellow Top Chefcontestant Jeff McInnis, specializes in traditional down-home fare made from traditional down-home ingredients like gulf shrimp, Virginia county ham, and spicy pimiento. The beautiful blonde from the very very deep south finally found her calling making southern-friend foods for New Yorkers. No one – least of all Booth - saw that coming.
Chef Booth stepped away from the stove for a few minutes to talk with Maxim about her growing love for comfort food, the trouble with male cooks and why you should never try to make lobster on a first date.
When did your obsession with food start?
I have two older sisters and we would always cook with the family. Being a chef was on the top list. My dad owned a couple of restaurants, and he told me that between the long hours and the stress, I should find something else out there. When I was older, I got a scholarship to attend the University of Miami for Public Relations. I moved my life all the way to Miami and once I got there I realized it wasn’t for me. That’s when I started culinary school.
And now you’re the proud co-owner of an extremely popular New York City restaurant.
Yes, it’s me and Jeff. To collaborate on a menu, it takes weeks and weeks of brainstorming and testing out recipes. The creative process is one of the best parts. We’re spoiled for choice now with all of the fresh produce and beautiful markets around this city.
Have you always been attracted to southern food?
It all started in Miami back at one of Jeff’s restaurants where I fell in love with a meatloaf dish. I could never believe I’d heard of meatloaf but never tasted it. I’m so obsessed now. Food is comforting, and I don’t like to feel guilty after a meal. I think we’ve created a nice balance between uplifting nourishing food and the southern comfort that everyone loves here at Root & Bone.
And you made an appearance on Cycle 11 of Top Chef.
It was such a great experience. Rather than being intimidated by the other chefs, I used it as an opportunity to flourish and stem myself at higher standards to learn as much as possible. I would ask them questions and find out how they do things in the kitchen. My fellow chefs on the show were great souls and supported each other’s craft. I was very fortunate.
Any chances of seeing you back on the small screen?
I like being on screen, but being able to choose when you have cameras around would be nice. I’ve had a few opportunities of little videos here and there with Zagat and The Daily Meal, so I hope to do more in the future. Reality TV, not so much.
Has it been hard being a woman in a field known for its macho culture?
Back in the day, we didn’t really meet a lot of female chefs on the savory side of things. I feel like women are becoming more ballsy in a male-dominated industry, and I don’t really see any barriers these days. My piece of advice: have confidence in yourself. Keep focused and take in as much knowledge as you can from anyone that is willing to give it to you.
If a man were trying to impress his date, what dish would you recommend him cooking?
Jeff and I are a couple so I can go from experience, so we like to share the cooking. It’s always nice for him to cook for me, but I like to get involved. Have a glass of wine, dim the lights, and cook together. Don’t cook anything too complicated. Killing a lobster or butchering meat is not the way to go.
What about dessert?
Keep it simple. Strawberries, chocolate, and champagne. Always have to have dessert, for sure.
Photos by Bolster Media