Whenever people ask me where to eat in Jacksonville, Orsay Restaurant is always the top recommendation. I eat out a lot, and Orsay is the restaurant I visit the most. They even know where I like to sit. I hosted my first food event there, multiple brunch and dinner events, and even my birthday. I’ve brought every person that I know for dessert and/or happy hour, and it continues to win best restaurant every year. Chef and Owner Jon Insetta went to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York; one of the best culinary schools in the world. He also owns Black Sheep Restaurant, an urban core favorite. Insetta is a food scene powerhouse, and the first thing I wanted to know was what drives him.
I asked him why he decided to invest in Jacksonville, and the answer was simple: community. Before CIA, he went to culinary school at Florida State College of Jacksonville (FSCJ) and made lasting connections. “In college, I did a study abroad in London. After living in different cities from Jacksonville, I just felt a natural need and want to come home. It’s a community that raised me, it’s a community that I cared about and I felt it could be a positive force for change in a special community that is coming up,” Insetta says. “I had a lot of support here. My head chef [at Orsay] right now, Mike McKinney, we started together at FSCJ. I had a lot of support in the industry here.”
Insetta is excited about the transformation of our urban core dining scene and the community of chefs that are working to make it a dining destination. “I think we’re at a special moment. I think it’s outstanding. From 13 Gypsies, to what Chef Tom Gray is doing, to what Scotty Schwartz is going to do, to Chef Kenny Gilbert, and to what Sam [Efron] is doing at Taverna — it’s a special time right now within the community,” he says. “We all care about each other. We’re all friends. We all work for the same goal, and that goal is not for our individual restaurants to get on the map — it’s for the city to get on the map. Regionally we’ve already started getting some respect. Forbes wrote an article that we are in the top 5 up-and-coming food scenes.”
Insetta doesn’t have to cook in the kitchen anymore, but I always see him behind the line at his establishments working alongside his staff. I asked him if it was because he loved it. “Yeah, I’ve always been attracted to working the line,” Insetta says. “It allows me to keep in touch with my coworkers, and also with the concept I’m trying to put forward; it allows us to deepen that language that we speak. I really enjoy the line. I enjoy the challenge of a line. It’s one of the things that attracted me most to this business.”
As a former athlete, Insetta equates his role in the restaurant to that of a coach, and his staff as a team. “I played basketball growing up. When you have a group of people going for a common goal and it works together, and you look to your brother and your sister and you know what you went through that night to accomplish that, those are the nights that you live for. The reality is those nights only happen once in a while. You immediately know as a group where you succeeded and where you failed, and you’ve gotta constantly improve and get better, but you do it together as a group. I think when you have a group fighting for a common goal, there is a sense of camaraderie which is very rare in todays’ world because the goal is so pure, and I just don’t see that in many industries,” he says.
In 2017, his newest project, Bellwether, has recently opened downtown. It is a concept similar to Black Sheep, with the same lunch menu and a few additions. He and his team just recently opened Black Sheep at Intuition Ale Works’ Doro District location. On top of all that, a fast casual kiosk is still in the works for Hemming Park. Insetta is a vital player in putting the Jacksonville culinary scene on the map. And I can’t wait to see what he does next.
For more information about Orsay, go to restaurantorsay.com
Check out nomnomjax.com for Nate Mayo’s scoop on hot eats and special events on the First Coast
For more of Kristen’s photography, go to kristenpenoyer.com