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Chef moves to Florida for the fish and stays for dessert

Name: Jackson Rogers

Title: Corporate Pastry Chef, GR Restaurant Group

Florida locations:

Table 42 (399 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton, 561-826-2625,

Racks Downtown Eatery + Tavern (402 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton, 561-395-1662,

Racks Fish House and Oyster Bar (5 SE Second Ave, Delray Beach, 561-450-6718)

Age: 26

Time at these locations: going on three years

Food prepared: Upscale comfort food

Background: Growing up in Buckingham County, Va., Jackson Rogers describes himself as a hunting, fishing, four-wheelin' kinda guy. Back then, hog roasts, fresh picked green beans from the family's garden and fresh cow's milk and chicken eggs from the neighbor's farms were de rigueur. At 6-years-old, Rogers was catching blue gills by the hundred, gutting, cleaning and pan frying them for dinner. He's been an avid fisherman ever since.

Rogers took a job at a local Burger King at 15 because he could walk there from his house and they accepted his work permit. A few rebellious years and casual restaurant chain jobs followed.

Eager to see life beyond rural Virginia, and attracted to the thought of being surrounded by fish, Rogers moved to Florida to work at his uncle's fish and tackle business in Jupiter. The self-proclaimed outdoors man admits to being the worst sales manager in history. He quickly realized that an indoor, desk job would be the death of him.

A job at Carmines Ocean Grill as a pizza cook turned into a dessert position out of necessity. Rogers immediately took to the sweet side of the kitchen. So much so, he enrolled in Florida Culinary School's baking and pastry program in 2007. Throughout school he worked at the Chesterfield Hotel in Palm Beach. Upon graduation he gained experience under the direction of Michelle Bernstein's pastry chef Sarah Ortiz at the Omphoy Hotel. He recognizes Ortiz for helping him truly understand the industry. "I was like a piece of raw dough and she transformed me into something completely different," he says. "I owe her a lot of credit. She's very talented." Rogers applied the knowledge and branched off on his own in 2009 as pastry chef for Racks Downtown Eatery + Tavern and eventually as corporate pastry chef for the parent company, GR Restaurant Group.

Q: What attracted you to stay on the pastry side of the kitchen?

A: I don't like standing in front of a grill or a fryer for hours. You leave and you're covered with a layer of grease after getting yelled at for eight hours. That killed my desire to cook. Pastry is much more prep intensive but you have a lot more freedom and creativity.

Q: What are the challenges of working in a commissary production kitchen for multiple outlets?

A: I do all the production at Racks in Boca and we use refrigerated trucks for transportation. The servers there are constantly keeping me informed. As far as the other locations, I stay in touch through management, comment cards and emails.

Q: Is there one flavor combination that rules across the board for all three locations?

A: Chocolate and peanut butter -- I make a turtle pie that is hugely popular -- an oreo crust filled with peanut butter ice cream with 70 percent Valrhona chocolate chunks and peanut brittle, topped with a layer of ganache.

Q: What dessert would you like to see banned from all menus?

A: Ice cream sundaes. I think they're a dessert cop-out. You can put your own sprinkles on some ice cream at home. You don't need a pastry chef for that.

Q: Your drink of choice is…

A: I don't drink much but when I do, I'm a beer and whiskey guy, so I'd have to say Jack and Coke.

Q: What did you have for dinner last night?

A: I went fishing in the Indian River and caught a sheepshead. I cooked it with an orange, soy and ginger mixture and finished it with some hot oil to crisp up the skin and served it with pineapple coconut rice.

Q: Name an ingredient that you feel is underappreciated.

A; Blackberries, I grew up picking them and they're my all-time favorite fruit.

Q: What is your favorite comfort dessert?

A: Warm blackberry pear pie.

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