Chef Jack McGuckin came to Northwest Florida from New Orleans in 2002, finding a home at Bijoux, a fine dining restaurant in Miramar Beach. At only 23 years old, he had no idea that 16 years later he would not only be executive chef of the award-winning restaurant but would also co-own it with his wife, Leslie, whom he met and fell in love with while working there. The beautifully designed Bijoux serves coastal French cuisine with a New Orleans flair. It recently earned the prestigious Golden Spoon Award, which honors the top 100 restaurants in Florida, and its impressive wine list has been recognized by Wine Spectator.
We sat down with McGuckin to learn more about his life and what inspires him in the kitchen.
How did you get into cooking?
Growing up in New Orleans, it’s a big food city, so I just fell in love with food and restaurants at an early age. When I was about 10 years old I took a cooking class with a bunch of other kids. There was a chef from a restaurant in New Orleans called Commander’s Palace, his name was Jamie Shannon. And he taught us how to cook an omelet, a pizza omelet. It was kind of my first taste of the whole procedural creativity of cooking and I fell in love with that.
Wow, that’s young. What got you excited about working in restaurants?
When I was 15, I started working at a restaurant in Mandeville, La. I started washing dishes, just starting at the bottom and learning the business from the bottom up. I remember it was Mother’s Day that first year, which is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year in the restaurant business. Somebody didn’t show up or was hung over or something and I had to jump in on the line and help cook. We probably cooked for about 400 or 500 people just for brunch.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I try to cook simple food using great ingredients and try not to do too much to them. I’m not trying to hide behind a bunch of fancy techniques or put too many flavors together. It’s just real, pure ingredients seasoned well and presented beautifully. That seems to work the best. I think that’s part of the ethic that runs through most good food in the world.
Is there anything you are particularly excited about or trying out right now?
I like Middle Eastern flavors lately. I‘ve been playing around with different spices that I’ve never been exposed to before. I’m a big cookbook buyer so I will go out and buy cookbooks and go eat at as many restaurants as I can that are authentic or cooking exotic cuisine and I just sample. We got to do some of that on a recent trip to London. We ate really good Indian food and Moroccan food. That’s how I learn. I’m a self-taught chef so I’m constantly educating myself by eating out, trying new things and reading.
What makes Bijoux unique?
We're a high-end restaurant, but I don't think we're stuffy. We're warm and welcoming. When you come into the restaurant to eat you're coming into our home. Besides having great food and wine and top-level service, there's a genuine warmness that runs through our staff that attracts people. I think it’s a unique experience and hopefully not just unique to the area but we hope to be somebody’s best meal they have ever had. Usually, people are on vacation or are celebrating something and we enjoy being a part of that, being a part of people’s memories and providing a place where memories can be made.
South Walton and Destin restaurants are adjusting to the new norm. At Bijoux, Jack and his team are working to keep patrons and staff safe while still serving their delicious fare. Bijoux is currently open with limited hours (5-9 p.m. Sun – Thurs. and 5-10 p.m. Fri. – Sat.) for dine in or carry out. The carry out menu features family-style options, including house-made meatloaf tomato glaze, smoky bacon, creamy mashed potatoes and seasoned haricot verts or Alaskan Halibut served over Anson Mills Fopntina Cheese grits and braised mushroom ragout finished with Tasso Beurre Blanc.
Make plans to experience the fresh delectable dishes prepared by Chef McGukin and his team at Bijoux next time you’re in the Destin area. If you haven’t already, now is a great time to start planning your next Destin vacation. View our collection of Destin Vacation rentals online or call one of our friendly vacation specialists at 1-800-225-7652.
See you @ the beach!
This article was written by Lauren Sage Edwards for 2019 edition of Where you'd rather Be Magazine.
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