Interview with New Orleans Rising Star Chef Jeffrey Hansell of Oxlot 9

by Caroline Hatchett
February 2016

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Jeffrey Hansell:
It was just a first job kind of deal. I was a dishwasher in a fry shack. It was the busiest restaurant in a small town, and it was really cool. I was also the oyster shucker, and I really thrived in the environment and loved the pace. I would always look over in the kitchen and ask them to let me hop in and play. I did that all through high school. Then, I went to college for two years, with no real direction. Then I just thought about it. There was a little culinary school that got destroyed by Katrina—the day school started, Katrina hit. So, for two months, the program got postponed until an elementary school let us use their space for two years. 

CH: What attracted you to Covington? 
JH:
My wife and I were in Birmingham and were talking about buying into the restaurant and becoming co-owners. We thought about it and thought we should check out other towns out. We hit up about two to three small towns a week until we came across this street. The Souther Hotel was going through renovations, and it was a shell but we really fell in love with the location, the history, and the town. We called a realtor, asked about the owner, then made it happen.

CH: Who's your mentor?
JH:
Chris Hastings. Our restaurants were across the street from each other and we would say hi. John Besh, as well. I mean, they’re Southern boys. They like to get their hands dirty and rub shoulders with the farmers out here. I was lucky enough to work for Besh. I never really worked under Chris, but I would help him out with parties when we were in Birmingham.

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
JH:
We’re trying to break into the community since we’re new. There’s a vocational program that promotes the culinary arts, and we’re trying to set up three-month stages. I also do farmers market demonstations. We also want to bring in chefs to collaborate with and have them do tastings here. Brian Polcyn, the author of charcuterie and salumi, is coming in November to do a demonstration, which is amazing to me because those books were like my bible. We have a local farm that’s going to donate a 300-pound hog and gather chefs around 20 or so. 

CH: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
JH:
I mean, I’ll never take on anything that I’m not comfortable with. We had no idea we would be as popular as we are. We got really lucky. The cooks were hard to find, but we have some gems. We got some sous chefs from New Orleans, and they’ve been awesome.  

CH: What's your five-year plan?
JH:
Well, my wife and I can’t sit still. We thrive on the craziness. With this place and the BBQ place, it’s been crazy, but I’d love to see Smoke expand to four or five locations around the South. It’s been a long road out of the dish pit.