The SOUTHERN CULINARIAN
BY DONNA CRARY
For Jason Stocks, being a top chef is about making a connection with people. He loves bringing joy to his clientele by serving delicious food.
"Food is sustenance," he says. "I like to give people something that is special. I really enjoy when people are having a great time and being happy - that's what I enjoy about being a chef."
Stocks is the co-owner of CoLab Kitchen, which recently opened in downtown Stuart. He is also the owner and executive chef at the upscale District Table & Bar.
A Stuart native, Stocks has been interested in cooking since he was a child. At the age of 7, he began preparing dishes following recipes from a kids' cookbook. While growing up, his cooking was influenced by his two grandmothers - one who's southern and the other, German.
He credits his grandfather who pushed him to take his cooking to the next level and attend Capital Culinary Institute in Tallahassee. After graduating, Stocks trained with many talented chefs in the industry from Pennsylvania to Key Largo.
In 2013, he was ready to run his own restaurant, so he moved back home and opened the District Table & Bar in Stuart.
"I wanted to put out what I like to eat and my type of food," he says. "I wanted to prepare food that wasn't pretentious or stuffy; I wanted to have fun. And I wanted to offer the best quality ingredients that I could source that's as local, in Florida or in the Southeast, as possible."
His Southern roots are reflected on the menu, as his sweet tea fried chicken is a favorite among customers. His blackened gulf shrimp, Belle Glade street corn, district burger, and steamed bun are other popular dishes.
Recently, Stocks has partnered with Pamela Huizenga Alexander, owner of CoLab Farms, to established CoLab Kitchen in downtown Stuart. Their new venture features a market with a European flair that sells organic produce, select meats, fresh baked goods, specialty foods, coffee and tea. It also has a spacious restaurant that offers casual dining, a full bar, an outdoor cocktail seating with a fire pit, a smokehouse and a stage for live music.
"Our mission here is to offer really good food and give people access to things that we make and grow that are local, organic, and healthy," he explains. "Another mission is to put out a really good meal and have a good time … to have that chill, hangout, family environment."
Stocks points out that a restaurant is "kind of a living, breathing thing" that needs to evolve. He says that every dish is made from scratch. He loves changing and tweaking the menu, so he can provide his customers with a top-notch culinary experience.
Restaurant: District Table & Bar, CoLab Kitchen in Stuart
Background training: Graduated from Capitol Culinary School in Tallahassee; apprenticed at The Greenbrier Resort; sous-chef at 100 Hudson & the Georgian Room in Sea Island, Ga.; executive sous-chef at Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Pennsylvania and Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo.
Most popular dish: Sweet tea fried chicken
Why I like being a chef: "I like making people happy and bringing people together, and it revolves around food. I like to be good at what I do. Being a chef isn't just about cooking. I also like mentoring people."