Jose DeJesus, aka Trill Cooker, was born and raised in the south Bronx. He started cooking as a child, helping his mother and grandmother in the kitchen —usually as a taste tester. Years later, with his parents moving to North Carolina and his high school grades limiting his opportunities for higher education, he decided to go to culinary school.
“People will always need to eat,” he says, confident he chose a great career.
Today, he’s trying to carve out his own place on New York’s culinary scene as a pop-up chef. His pop-up restaurant — which goes by an alias — is staged at secret locations where he executes adventurous out-of-the-box recipe concepts using farm, fresh ingredients.
Anyone can purchase a ticket to his social dining experience with one catch: you won’t know exactly where it’s going down until instructions are emailed two days before the event date. Real James Bond type stuff. Though he did let on that he likes to stay close to his roots.
Since Jose is used to cooking creative and unconventional meals with speed, we thought a pop quiz would be the perfect way to get to know more about the pop-up restaurant chef and Bronx tastemaker. Check it out below!
1. What are your top 3 favorite ingredients to cook with and why?
Salt is essential. People don’t understand how it’s used in every dish in every restaurant or the professional culinary game. Salt is key!! My other two ingredients are key elements any chef needs to be the best. Love—you must love cooking, love the pressure, love the heat, love to learn and inspire. Lastly, imagination. With that you can do anything with food. You can transform any ingredient or dish as if there was no box at all.
2. What’s the best or easiest trick to cooking healthy?
Make things from scratch. Don’t buy that jar of Prego tomato sauce. Go get the tomatoes, garlic, basil and make it yourself. You are making it, you know what you put into it. There are no preservatives, extra sodium, or sugars. It’s always a greater and healthier product.
3. When you’re not eating your own food you’re probably eating:
At Havana Cafe with the family. That’s my spot, we have been going there since they first opened in The Bronx. It’s a very welcoming, relaxing environment and they have always kept it honest when it comes to the food and bar menu.
4. Pick a speed cooking competition: Chopped vs Guy’s Grocery Games
I’m dying to get casted for “Top Chef” but “Chopped” would be cool too.
5. If you weren’t a chef what would you be doing?
I always wanted to be a professional baseball player but that wasn’t the route I was heading in. Sadly, I would most likely have been in a bad and rough place in my life. Food saved my life and made me who I am today.
6. In one word, describe The Bronx’s developing food scene:
Scarce and it’s in need of immediate growth. It’s definitely on the come up and people are now seeing the value of great areas in The Bronx. It’ll be booming soon enough.
7. What’s the worst thing that could happen to chef during a pop-up restaurant?
The health department shows up and makes you throw everything out and shut down. Pop-ups, especially underground, are legally illegal, if you know what I mean.
8. If you could cook a pop-up dinner for anyone dead or alive who would it be?
My idol Jayz. Who knows, he might bring me on as his private chef. Haha! Dream big!!
9. What’s next?
Breaking Bread — it’s my most recent project. It’s my baby. I’ve nourished it and now I’m teaching it to walk. But I have a lot of ambition and huge goals. I plan on Breaking Bread being my road to opening my concept of a restaurant, hopefully in the Bronx in a year or so.
Follow Jose on Instagram @trill.cooker.