Chef Jason Blastic, Soup Spoon Café
What made you want to become a chef? As a kid, I was always into chemistry, and I didn’t have a chemistry set so cooking was my way of playing with chemistry as a kid. It wasn’t always what I wanted to do, but I always enjoyed playing in the kitchen as a kid. I started out in the kitchen as a dishwasher when I was sixteen as my first job.
So, I got into it and I never left the industry.
Are you formally trained or did you learn as you went?
I grew up in Lansing, I went to Catholic Central High School. After high school, I went to Central Michigan and was going to go into hotel restaurant management. I started out learning as I went, because starting off as a dishwasher, I always aspired to be in the kitchen. Then I worked my way up to being a manager. I did take a cooking class in college, an elective type class, and so a lot of the people that were in my hotel restaurant management classes were in that class. I found that the reason I really love the restaurant business is because I love to cook. So, I changed gears from the hotel restaurant management side to the culinary side. After Central, I went to the culinary institute of America.
So, it seems like it always comes back to the culinary aspect of it. Why do you think that is?
It still is my chemistry set. I have learned the classical and French techniques in school, but I have always thought about food scientifically. It’s just the way my brain is wired, not just the skill or the flavor, but the science of how to make something correctly or how to make a recipe perfect.
Is molecular gastronomy something that you’re interested in, either incorporating that into your restaurant or just as a hobby?
It’s something I dabble with, I mean, obviously, we aren’t that style of restaurant. We couldn’t go all that way, but we do use elements of that, we do special dinners and things. About five years ago, I spent two days doing a stage — an unpaid internship for chefs — at Alinea in Chicago. It was incredibly intense. Those young aspiring chefs work 12 hours a day — if not more — nonstop. It was refreshing to know that I could hang with them for a few days.
Do you write the menu for Soup Spoon? Nick, the owner, is a chef as well. We are a chef-driven restaurant, so we all write the menus together.
When you are working on writing these menus and creating these dishes, what inspires you?
I draw from all over, like anybody else.
I watch the cooking shows and I might see something on Anthony Bourdain, I take that and put a little spin on there. You always get ideas. Sometimes it’s seasonal. Like for spring, it’s like what can I do with peas or asparagus or mint?
I know many people enjoy coming to soup spoon for the diversity of dishes, particularly vegan offerings?
We certainly get a lot of recognition for the vegan items that we do have. Our vegan items are not an afterthought. Our vegan dishes are thought out and are super flavorful. Like our Ethiopian stew, you don’t have to be a vegan to love that dish.
In terms of being in Lansing, what does Lansing offer to you? Do you love it here? What’s special about it?
I love Lansing because I grew up here. It’s one of the biggest small towns you’ll ever find. People are friendly, I love Michigan, I love going up north, that’s probably one of the biggest reasons for staying. I mean I summered in Nantucket, but I also worked up north in Traverse City and Cadillac when I first got out of culinary school. I live here in the east side, same as the Soup Spoon, and it’s pretty close knit. Many of the people who live here frequent the same bars, restaurants and stores, so the east side is a mini community within the community of Lansing.
Where do you eat out when you eat out? I eat out quite a bit. Chefs are kind of notorious for eating junk food. I mean if it’s your day off, unless your cooking for someone else, then you sort of don’t want to. Sometimes you get inspired, but sometimes you just want to order a pizza. I eat the same as a lot of people. My go-tos are Dagwood’s and El Oasis. Steakhouse Philly every once and a while. Those are some of my favorites.