Houstonians may be surprised to see a familiar face in the kitchen the next time they visit Cane Rosso. The Dallas-based pizza restaurant known for its rigorously authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas with creative toppings announced on Monday that it has hired Jonathan "JJ" Jones to serve as the executive chef for the locations in Houston and Austin that it opened in 2016.
Jones has a diverse resume that includes developing the menu for Max's Wine Dive, making Beaver's one of the city's first restaurants to embrace modern Southern cuisine, and a love for Mexico's culinary traditions that most recently found him at downtown tequila and taco joint El Big Bad. But prior to all of that, he began his culinary career working at a series of fast food pizza joint as a 15-year old.
"It seems fitting that the place that inspired me to go to culinary school was a pizza joint, and now I have come full circle being named executive chef of Cane Rosso South Texas locations,” said Jones in a statement. “The diverse Houston food scene has shaped who I am as a chef and I am thrilled to bring a Gulf Coast influence to the Cane Rosso menu.”
While Jones has primarily been known for his passion for Mexican flavors, the chef has a long history with Italian food, including the first restaurant he owned, Café Chiasso. His wife, Alicia "Tiger" Wolf, operates a travel agency that specializes in culinary trips to Italy, and the couple spent their honeymoon there.
Jones tells CultureMap that he has a number of plans for the restaurant, including sourcing ingredients from local purveyors like Houston Dairymaids, Black Hill Ranch, and Blue Horizon Seafood, and he will reach out to chef friends in Austin for recommendations there. In addition, he wants to expand the number of starters, add to the restaurant's pasta offerings, and develop a weekend brunch menu.
"I'm trying to give Houston a voice that’s its own," Jones says. "There’s no Gulf Coast seafood on the menu. You can look forward to that."
Beyond his skills in the kitchen, Cane Rosso owner Jay Jerrier notes that Jones' 31-year career brings other strengths, too. ""JJ brings a lot to the table on the more boring aspects of cheffery: labor management, recruiting, sourcing, and operations," Jerrier says. He also notes that "A16 in San Francisco was my original inspiration for Cane Rosso: great pizza at the core, but a very compelling menu around it. JJ will give us a nice local flavor for the neighborhoods."
Jones offers a simple summary of his mission. "We’re just going to try to make it a restaurant that Houstonians love," he says.