Comforting Cuisine

From sushi to corn dogs, Chef Jake Wood’s culinary catalogue spans cuisines—and now, he’s putting his own spin on comfort food as head chef of Plates Neighborhood Kitchen.

Jake Wood

Jake Wood

By Alex Dixon

Photo courtesy of
Tabletop Media Group

Chef Jake Wood’s restaurant career began as an oyster shucker because he needed a job. He began to get a feel for how the kitchen worked at 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh, asking the chef if he could fill the next kitchen spot that came available.

“I moved three feet over and started making soups, then I worked my way through every station in the kitchen,” Wood says. “I really fell in love with cooking, and figured out I could make a pretty good living doing it.” This newfound culinary skill took Wood to restaurants across the Triangle. He became the head sushi chef at The Cowfish, developed the food program for Raleigh Raw, and worked under Chef Jason Smith for 18 Restaurant Group. After serving as the chef de cuisine at 18 Seaboard, Wood took over at Plates Neighborhood Kitchen in January.

In the short time since he was named head chef, Wood has completely revamped the Plates menu, combining his appreciation and mastery of multiple cuisines with his Southern food roots. Wood, a North Carolina native, grew up with his grandmother’s home-cooked meals, now replicated in Plates’ new menu with dishes like Granny Helen’s fried chicken with crystal cane syrup, creamed collards, brown butter hominy, and cracklins. But Wood also gets adventurous on the menu, expanding Southern classics with new ingredients and inspirations. The corn dog isn’t your typical fried hot dog and dough on a stick: It’s a duck and foie gras corn dog with sorghum mustard and strawberry panola. The staple pimento cheese is made with goat cheese and served with bacon jam on buttered toast.

“I get to base my menus off of what’s coming out of the fields and what’s being foraged; that’s how my grandparents grew up, out of necessity,” Wood says. “As far as integrating my other skill sets and knowledge from being in different types of cuisine, it allows me to broaden the spectrum while staying within those comfort flavors.”

Wood points to a North Carolina blueline tilefish crudo he put on the menu when he became head chef as something that’s the culmination of his experiences. “A lot of what I did in sushi translates

into that because I know flavors to bring out the acidity that goes well with the type of fish, whether it’s a high-fat or low-fat fish, and how to brighten it up with different types of vinegar,” he says.

To replace sesame oils and soy sauce with a more Southern American ingredient, he turned to creating carrot vinegar and carrot granita. “We took the compost from the carrot vinegar and froze it to make the granita,” he says. “At Raleigh Raw, we’d take the compost and make chips and things like that, so [I] add techniques from different places I’ve worked.”

Wood isn’t just leading a revamp of the food; the new direction has extended to the decor, down to the glasses and plates. “We’ve taken the inside of the restaurant and completely flipped it. There’s whitewash shiplap walls, lots of nice farm antiques, and fresh blue paint to pop through,” he says.

“The restaurant has a nice rustic farmhouse style. That, mixed with the classic soul music in here, really sets the tone for this comfort food.”

As Wood continues to put his touches on the restaurant, he’s doing more to make it a community gathering place. “We’re going to have frose (frozen rose) during the warm weather, and whole-hog pig pickins on Sundays,” he says. “So we’re really trying to get a nice little party scene going on out here in the neighborhood, and have Plates be a staple that people can count on every week.”

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