Joseph ‘Joe’ Jackson stands above 6 feet with the build of a former defensive end. His hands are quick to deliver a vice grip like shake which, despite its firmness, conveys as much camaraderie as strength.
Jackson says reasonable hours have kept him working as the executive chef at CCBC Essex for the past three years. He now, “has time to be at home with the family in the evenings and on the weekends”, unlike his days at Loyola University of Maryland, which were often spent working weekends and holidays.
The lessened demands in scheduling are a direct result of working at a community college, where a commuting student base means there is no need to provide food services when classes are not in session. Although Jackson and his family prefer the relatively laid-back schedule he now enjoys, there are certain aspects of working for a private university that most executive chefs would find appealing,
At Loyola for example, the high cost of tuition made it possible for duck, as in the case of a competition-winning tamarind and crispy duck salad which Jackson created, and other exotic game to frequently be served. Although clearly roused by the proposition of serving such delicacies at the Essex Café, he doubts they will be popping up on the menu anytime soon.
And I’d take his word on this one, as one of Jackson’s chief duties as an executive chef is creating menu items. Among those available to order via either of the Café’s two touch screen stations are sandwiches, burgers, quesadillas and Jackson’s own daily special. The average cost of these items is $3.99, making it possible to purchase a full meal for less than $5, a feat hardly replicable next door at Subway.
The produce used in creating these items is sourced locally, although it is not organic. Jackson said increased costs are the most probable deterrent stopping the school from purchasing organic produce. The purported health benefits of organic foods are also heavily disputed and rarely founded in science. However, The Essex Café does promote compostable materials and single stream recycling whenever possible.
In a recent survey conducted on the Essex campus, 80% of participants reported feeling “satisfied” with the schools’ dining options. Second year student Soman Khan described the Essex café’s food as “a major upgrade from high school”.
In trying the Grilled Chicken sandwich, I noticed a flavor profile reminiscent of Chick-fil-A’s Spicy Chicken Deluxe, and being that the two are priced comparably, I hardly think it’s an accident. The curly fries were crispy enough while still retaining some springy-ness, and were given to me for free as I forgot to order them with my meal.
Overall the Essex Café is defined by its constraints; modest funding and a non-buffet format necessitate resourcefulness and efficiency in the kitchen so that the Essex Café to fulfill its purpose of, as Jackson says “keeping everything at a price point where everyone can eat, that’s what we aim for”.