31-year-old Jesse Romero sounds noticeably but understandably tired the morning of our interview. After all, this cook has a lot on his plate, most notably his much anticipated food booth, Robear Ln. in the up-and-coming White Star Market on Government Street.
You may know Romero as a competitor on FOX’s popular series “MasterChef.” And, while the show’s well-known host—cooking god Gordon Ramsay—may have taught the aspiring chef a thing or two, Romero’s biggest influence definitely doesn’t speak with a heavy English accent.
“Looking back at it, I’ve done so many, like, cooler things than be on ‘MasterChef’ since then,” said Romero. “Gordon Ramsay’s not even the best, he’s not even the best chef that I’ve worked under, you know, or like gotten training from.”
Instead, Romero credits the now former executive chef of Galatoire’s Bistro, Kelley McCann as his culinary mentor. Romero even served as McCann’s sous chef at Berckmans Place, a 90,000 square foot, and $6,000 admittance fee hospitality mecca only open the week of The Master’s golf tournament at Augusta National.
“We’re serving some of the most exclusive people in the world,” said Romero.
Luckily, White Star Market will stay open year round, and its diverse vendors will prepare a variety of delicious dishes daily out of their unique booths. Everything from creative tacos from Jay Ducote’s Gov’t Taco to pork tenderloins stuffed with boudin by Romero’s Robear Ln.
“The Robear Ln. menu, it’s more based off the South Acadiana area more so than old time recipes, and it’s actually going to be more of a modern food concept,” said Romero. “I’m just trying to establish my own concept rather than use, you know, the old time cook book menus that I grew up with.”
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Romero attended Catholic High School and graduated from Louisiana State University before working in the oil and gas industry alongside his family.
“I’m a third generation land man, and I still like doing that, but I realized that being a chef is very important to me.”
Romero switched from crude to cooking oil, and while he no longer works day in and day out with his family, they still serve as another one of his biggest influences, particularly his grandparents on his mom’s side.
“My mom was one of seven kids, so they, you know, knew how to stretch out ingredients,” said Romero. “My grandmother, she was basically like the lunch lady of a Catholic school here in Baton Rouge.”
Romero recalls how they would often prepare their signature dish, which also was his favorite meal.
“He would fry chicken and she would cut up potatoes and make French fries and every time they did that they would fry one chicken for the family and one for me because they knew that was my favorite meal,” said Romero.
While conventional wisdom would, in all likelihood, pick the oil and gas sector over the food service industry in terms of financial benefits, money obviously does not drive Romero, however his passion for cooking does.
“There’s nothing that makes me happier than cooking something and seeing someone smile whenever they’re eating the food and asking about the recipes,” said Romero.
“I’m proud of my family, I’m proud of who I am and where I came from and you can see that in my food.”
Photos by Greta Jines.