Self-taught chef Jason Mallon runs the kitchen at Ocean Prime the way he lives his life—with optimism, pride, and unassailable respect for fellow workers and guests. Having grown up in Florida’s Jacksonville area, he has been working in restaurants for 15 years. Through his brother’s connection as a cook for the company, he moved to Tampa’s Ocean Prime restaurant as a broil cook in 2009. In fewer than five years, he was wearing the executive chef toque. He opened the Naples branch with the same title last December. Some of his don’t-miss specialties: ahi tuna tartare with avocado, Chilean sea bass with Champagne truffle sauce, and 10-layer carrot cake.
Turning point: In my mid-20s, I was sort of a wild child. I always thought I had to be right and prove it in the kitchen. I decided to stop doing that and listen and learn. Literally overnight my attitude changed. I got the chef mentality. I thought I’d have to quit and go to culinary school, but my mentors told me I already knew what they teach you there.
Pet peeve: I want things done the way they should be done, no matter what—neat and organized all the time.
Inspiration for new dishes: Sometimes I just start chopping veggies and see where it goes.
Kitchen philosophy: Nothing really matters as long as the guest leaves happy. Restaurants are all the same as far as the front of the house versus the back of the house skirmishes. How you treat people is the big difference [between other houses and Ocean Prime].
Cooking for himself: I eat like a 5-year-old—kinda picky. I love burgers and goulash-y stuff all mixed together. Here, I make myself a burger topped with the pancetta-tomato-clam reduction we use with our redfish dish. Topped with cheese. It’s crazy, but delicious.
Fresh approach: Everything but the ketchup and chocolate sauce is made from scratch.