Jonathan Insetta, owner of restaurants Orsay and Black Sheep, spends most of his time in the kitchen — it’s where he says he feels most comfortable.
Insetta graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and he served his internship in Miami in what he calls a “busy, high-level undermanned kitchen.”
He returned to his hometown of Jacksonville and by the time he was 26 he opened his first restaurant, Chew, in Downtown.
“Back in 2002, 2003, my dad was pushing me to open up a restaurant. I didn’t feel ready, but he gave me advice I’ll never forget: ‘You’re gonna get bloody,’” said Insetta. “I’m so proud of Chew, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Unfortunately, it was not viable financially to be in that location, but having it allowed us to do Orsay.”
Orsay, at 3630 Park St. in Avondale, opened in 2008 with a French-American cuisine theme and consistently has been a top pick for awards lists and critics’ “best of” mentions.
His newest venture, Black Sheep, at 1534 Oak St., has an American-Southern menu that includes a number of Chew’s more popular dishes. It opened last year in a contemporary new building in Five Points and shortly after Chew closed.
Black Sheep’s rooftop bar, providing treetop vistas, opened about seven weeks ago.
Insetta grew up in Mandarin and said he learned early on the importance of where food comes from.
His family had a garden, chickens, turkeys and even a donkey, and he says his early experience with farming has had a huge influence on his career.
Whenever possible, ingredients for Black Sheep’s dishes come from local or regional farms and suppliers.
Last year, Insetta became a partner in East Palatka-based Black Hog Farm, a supplier of produce, poultry and pork. The farm is working toward obtaining a wholesale license for its hogs so that Black Hog pork products can be used at Insetta’s restaurants.
“It can sometimes be a challenge to find diversity with regional products, but we pick our battles and make the best choices that we can,” said Insetta. “Fortunately, it is a growing movement in the industry and one that I will continue to support.”