Shanghai veteran of such high-end Shanghai institutions as David Laris’ restaurant Laris, Fifty 8º Grill at the Mandarin Oriental, and Coquille and Scarpetta, Chef Jason Oakley has switched it up to become a partner in popular sports bar Cages. So we thought it was time for a little interview.
So, how did you come to get involved with Cages?
I met BT and Dan a while ago. We hosted a few events together and they went quite well. We kept the dialogue open and work well together so it made sense to partner in the business. I believe in the concept. I believe in the growth potential. And most importantly I believe in the team.
It is a bit of a change from you fine dining background – how are you finding the switch?
Lots of layers on this. First, I like American bar food, yet have never have been in a venue to make it. I have always tried to make fun, unpretentious food in all the places I worked, so this is no different really. A different audience and price point, sure, but still buying the ingredients from the same suppliers and using the same techniques. Fine dining or fast casual concepts the end goal is the same: provide a product that will satisfy your customers and keep them coming back in the future.
Tell us about your plans for the World Cup?
I don’t watch a lot of sports, so I wanted to make it about the food. We are going to do different street food stalls where you can walk around and see the selections, order and get back to your seat quickly. We will have a line up of chefs from the city who also share a love for street food. As well as myself there will be Austin Hu, Carlos Sotomayor, Pol Garcia and Ling Huang.
What about these new burgers?
Love, love, love burgers! We do a special grind in house that really separates us from the places buying pre-ground beef. We spent time to make sure the fat to lean was what we wanted and that the beef cuts we were grinding did have a pronounced beef flavor and texture.
What else can we expect from the new menu?
We have added some new equipment to the kitchen so we can make as much as possible in house. We have a full bakery now for breads and burger buns, which makes a big difference. We also introduced a selection of Asian dishes and light and refreshing salads to provide more selections to people who don’t necessarily want heavy or fried food.
And more tricks up your chef whites sleeve?
We will be launching brunch soon as well as tailgate menus for large groups.
If you had chosen a different career path, what would it have been?
I like that food is a big part of every culture and is the staple of most celebrations. The creative factor is really important to me. But I grew up skateboarding before cooking, so it would be something in that industry. Love the design and street photography aspect.
How do you keep the inspiration going?
I have worked with a lot of great people, and it is impossible to list how and why I gained inspiration from them. Sometimes we go out to eat and I get inspired by the flavor or technique of a particular dish, and that my favorite type of inspiration! Its so nice to visit restaurants around the world and taste something and have it humble and inspire you at the same time.