Today we begin a series of stories that will run once a week where we speak with the kitchen warriors of Dallas, the sous chefs.
I am standing next to Bolsa sous chef Justin Box just outside his very tiny kitchen domain. All at once he is prepping celery root soup for the evening service, along with a savory duck tongue dish. At the same time Box is also pickling jalapeno peppers. They had some extra peppers and nothing goes to waste at Bolsa. Meanwhile executive chef Andrew Bell is scurrying with recipes for the day and working with the other staff. The smaller the kitchen the more of a machine it must be to prevent chaos.
Justin Box is an interesting fellow. I have known the young chef from his time spent as sous at Restaurant Ava, Stephan Pyles Caters, and country clubs. But it wasn’t always about the food. Box had an addiction that nearly cost him his life. With a system full of crack, heroine and a whiskey in amounts that he claims would kill a small cow, he sat in his apartment with a gun in his mouth ready to end it all.
Click. The gun misfires. The second shot jumped and missed his head, clipping the tip of his nose. Two weeks later he attempted to hang himself. That also failed. This had to be a sign that his time on earth was not going to end. Not now. He checked into rehab and it literally saved his life.
I asked Box if he wanted this on the record, and he emphatically said yes. It was part of his life and made him who he is today.
“When I got clean all I wanted to do was cook. I was even looking into cooking at the treatment center,” said Box as he sautéed his mirepoix for the soup. He said that the people at the rehab treatment center didn’t think he had any brains left much less could cook. How wrong they were.
The first place Box worked once he was clean was dropping fries at Twisted Root. This coming from a classically trained chef who graduated from both El Centro in Dallas and the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He said he was actually frightened to go back into the kitchen. That all changed quickly.
One of the first restaurants that gave the chef another chance was Royal Oaks Country Club. The dozens of tattoos was an issue at first, but they got past that and hired Box to work the line. There he immersed himself into his work. He would work his full shift, then clock out and work more. He has an insatiable appetite to learn more. Perhaps he has substituted one addiction for another. Box loves to cook.
Next Box moved on to Restaurant Ava in Rockwall working for the late Randall Copeland.
“Randall was one of the first people to give me a chance. He worked with me like no one else had in the past. He was promoting me to people, but I am not in this for the magazines or television, or even the money. I just want to cook.”
Box walked away from the mic at this point, still talking as he set up his Robot Coup. The soup wasn’t going to make itself. He started talking about that in his mind there was no such thing as a VIP. Everyone is a VIP that sits in any restaurant he works at. This philosophy will take him far.
Adopted at a young age by his grandparents, he is a devoted son who spends much of his free time tending to them. I had met his family one evening while at Bolsa, and you could see Box’s gentle nature gleam, and his adoration as he listened to their soft words.
Another addiction that still remains is his love for the ink. This might be what you see first when you meet Box, but it definitely should not influence your opinion of the man. Each tat has a special meaning. Some from brotherhood like when a large group of Mexican immigrants were deported, wiping out his kitchen. He had a tat made to commemorate his loss of the friendships he had made with these men and women.
He looks exactly like Jesse Pinkman, but with plenty of tats. But Jesse could only cook meth, Justin Box cooks real food for real people.
You can find Justin Box working on the line in the very open kitchen at Bolsa most nights when they are open. He is just one of the many warrior sous chefs we have working in Dallas. We will introduce to many ore in the coming weeks.