Blue Smoke celebrates the evolving American South and honors its culinary traditions. Inspired by the many regions of the South, from the Carolina coast to the hills of central Texas, the food is soulful with a selection of smoked meats, fresh produce, and thoughtfully sourced ingredients. Classic and specialty cocktails, an extensive American craft beer list, American wines and whiskey served by a welcoming team complete the experience.
How did you get into the restaurant industry?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: From the age of 16, I worked in restaurants. My mother was a chef, so as a kid, I worked as her dishwasher, prep cook and busboy. She taught me how to carry three plates so that I could serve at dinner parties she and my father would host. I also got really good at chiffonading herbs, dicing carrots and whipping cream. All throughout college (I studied landscape architecture), I worked in some sort of food business. My favorite was working as a counter worker/cashier at Collegetown Bagels in Ithaca, NY. I loved the camaraderie, the pace, and the endless supply of day-old bagels. A few years after college, I moved to NYC to work for an architecture firm in Chelsea, and I got a job as a host at Union Square Cafe to augment my income. I fell in love with the place and, after two years of doing both landscape architecture and working at USC, I decided to pick restaurants. I have been with the company ever since.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: I grew up in the small town of Thibodaux, Louisiana in a family that lived off the land, catching catfish, hunting duck, making fig preserves, and cleaning shrimp. We always cooked with fresh, seasonal ingredients and these formative experiences of enjoying flavorful, seasonal food left a lasting impression on me. My first cooking job was working at a boiled seafood shack and catering business. I boiled 500 lbs. of crawfish, 200 lbs. of shrimp and about 15 dozen blue crabs every day. I left work with my skin on fire from the seasoning but I thought it was fun. After that, I enrolled at John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, and the rest is history. I have never held any job outside of hospitality.
What partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented which have attributed to your restaurant's success?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: Most of our “marketing” is really centered around staff education and training. Yes, we have a great PR and marketing team, but without a well-trained staff who can tell our story, any marketing initiatives will fall flat. In terms of partnerships, we believe in connecting with the community, so we engage in a lot of charity work. We also donate to many local charities who benefit from our success. For example, we donate $1 from every kids meal to local child-centered organizations. In our club Jazz Standard, we donate a portion of ticket sales to the Jazz Foundation of America, so we can help ensure that jazz remains alive and well.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: Two recent partnerships we’ve implemented that I’m particularly excited about are with Edible Schoolyard NYC and Dickson’s Farmstead Meats. Edible Schoolyard NYC is a non-profit that partners with public schools to build gardens and kitchen classrooms where kids can engage in hands-on learning, with the goal of giving them the knowledge to make healthier choices throughout the course of their lives. The Blue Smoke team recently took a field trip to Edible Schoolyard NYC’s Brooklyn Showcase School in Gravesend, where we helped with the harvest and learned more about this enriching program. Right now, each time a kid’s menu is ordered at either of our Manhattan locations, Blue Smoke is donating $1 to ESNYC. I firmly believe that giving back to the NYC community and helping enrich the lives of the next generation is a measure of our success as a company. Along with Edible Schoolyard NYC, another partnership we’ve recently forged is with Dickson’s Farmstead Meats to create specially smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving. At Blue Smoke, sourcing the ingredients we use is incredibly important to us. Partnering with Dickson’s, who has led the move to source natural, humanely-raised, high quality meat from local farms, is a natural fit for what we do. A third partnership that I’d also like to mention is our close affiliation with the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA). Food is the common medium that all people, regardless of race, religion, or social class can come together around. Being involved with the SFA allows Blue Smoke to connect with folks that are committed to keeping the story of the vibrant, evolving Southern food culture alive.
What are the most popular dishes at Blue Smoke and which are your personal favorites?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: The most popular items are our Roasted Oysters, Fried Chicken and Biscuits, our Brisket Platter, Pulled Pork, and our Chocolate Cake. My personal favorite is our Louisiana Shrimp Boil, which also happens to be incredibly popular.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: Pulled Pork and Baby Back ribs are always crowd pleasers. I really like the Louisiana Shrimp Boil, with spicy peel and eat gulf shrimp, sausage, potatoes, corn, and Cajun comeback sauce, along with the Preservation Plate, which focuses on various preservation methods. Duck Ham, Beef Jerky, and Head Cheese Rillettes are just some of the ways in which we highlight these methods, along with including various fruit preserves, pickle, and mustards.
How do you stay successful within such a volatile and competitive industry?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: By always questioning what we are doing and trying to do it better. It’s not enough to have one good service or one happy guest. If we make someone really happy, we want to know what we did to create that outcome. Likewise, if we disappoint someone, we need to look inward and see what we could have done better.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: We resolve to keep improving every day and always keep our guests in mind when making changes.
What is your life motto?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: Be honest, even when it’s really difficult.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: Life’s a garden. Dig it!
How important does the design / architecture of your restaurant play into its success?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: It has a lot to do with it. It’s important to tell your story in any way possible, and the design is one of the first elements that a guest can start to understand that story.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: I like the music loud and the décor warm…it should feel like home and a party all at the same time.
How important is location in selecting the creation of a new restaurant?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: It’s important to have a restaurant where there is a community that will support it. With Blue Smoke, we tend to seek out underserved areas that lie outside of the fray, but that contain groups of residents, businesspeople, tourists, and local visitors who are looking to eat delicious food in a relaxed setting and who don’t have too many options in their immediate surroundings. Back in 2002, 27th street between Park and Lexington fit the bill, and that is where we established our flagship location. Likewise, in 2012 we opened our second location in Battery Park City, a vibrant community in lower Manhattan that, at the time, didn’t have many local restaurants. Jean-Paul and I are excited to open the first bar from Union Square Hospitality Group, called Porchlight, on 28th street and 11th avenue in the underserved area of west Chelsea in January 2015.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: Not sure if you can call it literature….Bicycling Magazine and Garden & Gun.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: A dinner and lunch menu to jot down ideas when I can’t sleep and the NLT bible. I’m also a big fan of Southern Living, Garden and Gun, and Cabela’s outdoor catalogues.
Who is your role model - business and personal?
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: Personally, my dad is my role model. Professionally, I connect with any chef that cooks with soul.
Describe a great night out and an ideal experience at your restaurant.
Mark Maynard-Parisi: A great night at Blue Smoke starts with one of our fantastic cocktails, accompanied by a snack that can be shared with friends. I’m thinking of our Preservation Plate, which features Jean-Paul’s delicious duck ham, rillettes and beef jerky. Next, I’d have a beer to go with appetizers. If all can agree, I love doing a pitcher so we can share and make the experience more interactive. For appetizers, I love our roasted oysters and sausage & pimento cheese. I’d then move on to wine for the main courses. We’d probably order a bunch of things to share, from Backyard Chicken and Brisket to the Shrimp Boil and then pick some sides, like our roasted pickled beets, cornbread madelines and biscuits. After we’re stuffed, we share a bottle of dessert beer or maybe share some key lime pie and chocolate cake. Throughout the experience, your server is there whenever you want (and not when you don’t), and answers any questions you may have. We offer suggestions about our favorites, and we help you have the night you were hoping for. If you are at our flagship location, you stroll down to Jazz Standard to end the night in an intimate room with soulful, world-class jazz.
What is your go-to travel destination?
Go to travel destination?
Mark Maynard Parisi: The beach, anywhere. And Paris.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: Anywhere with a beach.
What’s next for Blue Smoke and yourself personally?
Mark Maynard-Parisi: I am incredibly fired up about Blue Smoke. It has been really rewarding to have Jean-Paul at the culinary helm, and he has infected the team with his optimistic exuberance. We look forward to working together to further evolve Blue Smoke into a great New York City restaurant with Southern roots.
Jean-Paul Bourgeois: I am really excited to help write Blue Smoke’s next culinary chapter, continuing to bolster its reputation for world-class barbecue, while also making it a destination for incredible, craveable southern-inspired dishes. I’m pouring my Louisiana heritage, and a lifetime of travelling throughout the south and tasting the best food it has to offer, into each of the dishes on the Blue Smoke menu. It’s my aim to take guests on a delicious culinary journey, while at the same time making them feel like they’ve come home.
As the founding General Manager of Blue Smoke 27th Street, Mark has led virtually every aspect of the restaurants, jazz club and catering company, helping to build it from concept to reality and overseeing operations.
For two years, Mark simultaneously served as Managing Director of Operations for Union Square Events, the catering and events services branch of Union Square Hospitality Group, and he remains an advisory partner there. Prior to joining Blue Smoke in 2001, Mark worked at Union Square Cafe where he rose through the ranks from reservationist to General Manager. He is a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in landscape architecture. He is a regular lecturer at the Institute of Culinary Education, Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration and New York University’s School of Food, Nutrition and Public Health.
Mark is a true community leader and co-founder of three important charity initiatives: Union Square Hospitality Group’s partnership with Jacob Perlow Hospice at Beth Israel, The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party and Jazz Standard’s Jazz for Kids program, featuring the Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra. In addition, he serves on the Executive Committee of New York City’s Flatiron Business Improvement District and Streets International, a non-profit organization whose mission is to transition children from poverty to careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Mark also leads the strategic growth of Blue Smoke, which has grown to multiple locations, including Battery Park City and outposts of Blue Smoke On The Road at Citi Field, Washington National's ballpark and JFK Airport’s Delta Terminal Four.
Growing up in the small town of Thibodaux, Louisiana in a family that practiced seasonal rituals such as catching catfish, duck hunting, making fig preserves, and cleaning shrimp, Jean-Paul grew up surrounded by vibrant Southern cuisine, prepared by two parents who had a passion for living off the land and cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients. These early experiences of flavorful food left their imprint on Jean-Paul, who enrolled at John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, where he received his Bachelor’s degree and participated in an exchange program with the Paul Bocuse Institute in Lyon, France.
After completing his formal studies, he worked at Étoile restaurant at the Domaine Chandon winery in Napa and then moved to San Francisco to become opening sous chef at EPIC Roasthouse under Chef Jan Birnbaum. In 2007, Jean-Paul moved to the island of St. Thomas, where he served as sous chef of two local restaurants and developed a true passion for soul food, which played a pivotal role in helping define his vision as a Southern chef.
When Jean-Paul first moved to New York, he landed at Maialino in December 2009, working under Executive Chef Nick Anderer. Over his four years at Maialino, Jean-Paul was promoted several times, and was named Chef de Cuisine of Gramercy Terrace at The Gramercy Park Hotel in 2013.
In 2014, Jean-Paul became Executive Chef of Blue Smoke Enterprises, which includes Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard and Blue Smoke On The Road. He is also responsible for the culinary program at Porchlight, USHG’s new Southern-inspired bar slated to open in January of 2015.