How a Chef Who Helped Restaurants Reopen Spends Sundays

Georgann Dolfay

A few weeks after the pandemic first shut down the city last spring, Russell Jackson, a chef and the owner of Reverence, a fine-dining restaurant in Harlem, started selling “Reverence to go” meal kits. Later in the year, he was tapped by the Aspen Institute’s Food and Society Program to join the James Beard Foundation, José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen and others in coming up with national safety guidelines for resuming indoor dining.

Those guidelines were issued to more than half a million restaurants this April, the same month Mr. Jackson reopened his 18-seat, reservations-only restaurant to the public (he’s seating a maximum of only 12 now). “From a chef and chef-owner perspective, we learned quickly that we couldn’t look to government agencies to help us navigate this new world, that we’d have to be self-sufficient,” he said.

Mr. Jackson, 57, lives in Harlem with his wife, Lora, 39, a consultant and entrepreneur who spent much of the past year securing loans and grants for Reverence, and their son, Kingston Bowie, 2.

SCARCE SHUT EYE I’m usually up by 6:30. Since the reopening, I’ve been going to bed after 2 in the morning, but during the pandemic I was in bed by midnight. Kingston wakes up about 1 a.m. and cries because he wants to move into our bed. We kind of like him being there. My wife gets the head. I get the feet.

TOO MANY COOKS My wife opens up Cafe Mommy, where she makes us citrus water and coffee and maybe a protein shake to get the day started. We have a baby gate up in the kitchen because Kingston wants desperately to get in there and cook. His godmother is the renowned chef Dominique Crenn; there are multiple Michelin stars surrounding this kid. I try to spend at least 30 minutes playing with him, but he’s adamant about making sure I don’t have a phone in my hand, and usually I’m trying to respond to emails, like the ones from the hotline we started so people could ask questions about how to prepare food from our takeout service. Once I’ve gotten enough coffee in me and can be articulate, we’ll call Lora’s parents. She’s Bulgarian. Her parents are still in Bulgaria.

THE PANDEMIC 30 A buddy of mine opened up this really cool doughnut shop, Super Nice Coffee and Bakery, that’s not too far from here. This is why I’m fat. The doughnuts are outrageous. We’ll go there and get a big order of pastry. I’ve put on at least 30 pounds since the pandemic. I don’t even look at the scale anymore. It’s not like I’m eating any differently, but I think because of the stress, and because we don’t have a gym in the building, I haven’t been as active. Plus, you know, my body’s 57.

OVERDRIVE When Kingston has his nap, we go into overdrive working. Lora has been handling a lot of our H.R. stuff, and we’ll both be looking out for stuff for our staff, stuff they can apply for to get additional financial aid. I’m a big believer in “actions speak louder than the crap you post on Instagram.” I’ll check the newsfeeds about horrific things like crashes that have happened because of outdoor dining and send emails to the Aspen Institute.

HOT DAD CREW I got this Swedish shoulder harness thing that I can put Kingston in. I’ll use that, or we’ll take the stroller down to Central Park to meet the hot dad crew. They’re this group of fathers with children who are all about Kingston’s age. They’ve done takeout at the restaurant over the last year, and I’ve become friends with them. It’s a way for Kingston to have safe interaction with other children, and I can decompress. On the way home we’ll stop at Whole Foods for milk or make some other stop. Last week it was the nursery to buy plants for the restaurant.

MAINTENANCE One of the few small luxuries I’ve allowed myself in my life is the opportunity to go and get my hair cut. I go to a private studio in Chinatown. It’s a little hidden oasis, which is one of the things I love about it. The place is called Shadow Gallery, and you get in by appointment only. It’s a supper club secret society kind of thing.

KEEP IT LOCAL “What do you want to eat for dinner?” has become the weekly argument. A lot of times I’ve been cooking all week, and the last thing I want to do is reheat or cook something. We started a Reverence brunch kit during the pandemic that became a thing of legend. It has sourdough pancake batter. And Kingston goes ham about bacon, which is understandable because he’s my son, so there’s been a few times where I’ll bring a brunch kit home and we’ll have breakfast for dinner. But more often it’s takeout. We really try to support local businesses. We’re restaurant people, and I want all of us to survive. I love The Edge. Oso is super nice. Or we’ll order from Melba’s or Angel of Harlem.

RELAX, RESET Then it’s crib time. I’ll go in and read a book and put on some classical music for Kingston to sleep to before wind-down time for me and Lora. We have a chance to watch something stupid on TV, or we’ll try to catch John Oliver. It’s nice to be able to sit together quietly and relax. We’re in bed by 11, because you know Kingston’s going to wake up and the crazy is going to start all over again.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Russell Jackson on Instagram and Twitter at @chefrjackson.

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