Food Insider: Chef Alexis Jones of Natchez

Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Rock City Eat’s latest series, Food Insider, takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we have Chef Alexis Jones of Natchez.

What’s your culinary background and when did you first realize you wanted to be a chef?
I started working in the food industry in college. I spent time in both the front and back of the house of restaurants and finished with a hospitality management degree from Ole Miss. After college, I moved to D.C. and had a few jobs but managed a hotel and worked as the wine steward and helped with menu development while also working a variety of kitchen positions. I moved to Chicago to attend a graduate program in Culinary Arts at Kendall College. I spend my externship back in Oxford with John Currence’s restaurant Snackbar and worked under Vishwesh Bhatt. At my externship, there were a few recommendations for places to work (if I didn’t move back to Oxford). One was with Chef Lee Richardson, so after graduation I interviewed with him and was offered a job …  and have been in Little Rock ever since (3.5 years).

Could you briefly describe the menu at Natchez, your hours of operation, and any other pertinent information about the restaurant?
We are very focused on using local products and changing the menu with the seasons. I have just standardized a fall menu, and we have a chalkboard menu that we use for soups, specials, and desserts that change daily. Our hours of operation are lunch Tuesday-Friday (11-2) and dinner Wednesday- Saturday (6-9). I am hoping to extend our hours to Tuesday dinner and start offering breakfast service and possibly brunch soon!

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You are coming up on Natchez’s two-year anniversary … how are you celebrating the occasion?
We are throwing ourselves a birthday party–a four-course dinner with wine pairings and music by the talented and beautiful Bonnie Montgomery, who has played at several wine dinners including our 1st birthday. Reservations only, and we’ve managed to sell out all our wine dinners, so hoping people book early!

How did you end of choosing the name “Natchez” for your restaurant?
I chose the name Natchez a very long time ago, well before I moved to Little Rock. Natchez is the antebellum city in Mississippi where my mother is from. It has a very rich culture and history, pre-dates New Orleans as the oldest city on the Mississippi River, was colonized by the French, Spanish, and British and the city flies five flags for those countries as well as for the Native American and African American people.

I’ve noticed some recent changes at Natchez … what can diners who haven’t visited the restaurant in a few months now expect?
Well, we have revamped the look, as well as standardized a lunch, dinner, and cocktail menu (which most people might expect to see only a chalkboard menu). We are offering a lot more small/share plates and also doing daily wine deals.

What’s the toughest aspect about running a restaurant?
There is nothing easy about running a restaurant. There are no days off and it’s both mentally and physically demanding. I not only work as a chef but also the book-keeper, accountant, public relations, etc. Luckily, I’m becoming handy, and now that I’m “the boss” I get to close on the occasional holiday.

That being said, the hardest part is probably finding good people that you can trust and will share your vision, which I have been lucky with. Also the margins are incredibly small for restaurants, and we want to buy everything local and have the best seafood delivered daily. We make everything from scratch (soups, stocks, pastas, butchering in house), and it’s not possible to compete with the prices of places who don’t do these things, and not everyone understands that is where most of the costs derive.

What is your most popular dish at Natchez?
Our house pastas, anything with gnocchi or risotto.

Any new creations on the horizon?
Always, that is the best part of the job. We get to be creative and make people happy with food! What could be better?

On the personal front, what are some of your great passions outside of food?
Well as with most people in the industry, I LOVE to travel.

What is your all-time favorite movie?
The Godfather or The Big Lebowski. I know that’s a big leap.

Describe your perfect Little Rock evening … where would you go and what would you do?
It’s hard for me to imagine evenings in Little Rock that aren’t on a Sunday/Monday, so going with that, my perfect Little Rock evening would consist of going out to dinner and seeing a play/ musical at The Rep or Argenta Theatre.

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Food Insider: Chef Alexis Jones of Natchez