Transcribed by James Creange.

Photos by Kelcey Harris.

Chef Jon Bonnell loves to stay in touch with the people that dine at his restaurant, so he will be answering Fort Worth Food Stories reader’s questions every month. To submit your question, leave a comment on this post or send an email to [email protected].

Reader Question: Last week you said that you were more of a restaurateur than a chef now. Can you explain the difference between these?

Jon Bonnell: When I first opened Bonnell’s, I was a chef on the line cooking every day. Knife in hand prepping every day. Tongs in one hand, towel in the other, slinging pans while on the grill or on the line. I was 100% cooking 80 hours a week. As a restaurateur now, we’re running four different places, and I’m doing an appearance here or an interview there. I find myself not doing nearly as much of the cooking any more, but more organizing the restaurant and running them as businesses. I still take a very active part in creating new dishes or making sure that the food is of the highest quality and up to the standards that we want. But, I’m not typically the guy in the back slinging it out as much as I used to be.

RQ: What’s your favorite game day snack for football season?

JB: Game day or no game day, guacamole is my absolute favorite snack. I couldn’t live without guac. If there was an avocado shortage, I’d be the first one out there picketing and demanding more. As far as tailgate food, I’m a huge fan of shrimp. They grill very quickly and easily, so you can have them marinated and throw them on the grill, so it’s an easy one to do. Or, a lot of times we’ll do a jalapeno pickled shrimp. It’s got a nice spice to it, and it’s ready to go with not too much mess.

RQ: What is your favorite menu item from each of your restaurants?

JB: Oh I have to pick just one? [laughs] That’s just not fair. At Bonnell’s, I’d probably say my favorite overall dish is the pepper crusted buffalo tenderloin. It has been a fan favorite for many years. We’ve got a nice rye whiskey cream sauce, asparagus and truffle fries. As far as richness and flavor, if you’re craving red meat there is just nothing better. I like it rare to medium rare. At Water’s, I really love oysters. Our special called “the dirty dozen” has six different varieties of oysters (with two of each one), and to me it is a really good variety. They come from different waters, and tasting your way around the different waters of the world is a fun way to spend your summer afternoon…especially when it is hot. For Buffalo Bros, I’m a classic wings guy. Give me a dozen traditional and let me go to town. My son and I can really tear them up. He’s 8 years old and his favorite two dishes are anything involving clams and wings. When it comes to wings, we go to Buffalo Bros and can each knock out a dozen.


RQ: I have trouble keeping chicken from being either overcooked or undercooked. Any tips?

JB: Absolutely. I’m assuming you’re probably grilling a chicken breast, and you’re terrified that you’re going to undercook it and get somebody sick. That’s a good fear to have, but the temperature for chicken at 160 degrees is plenty. It used to be 155, then 160, then even up to 175. I think the lawyers are writing the temperatures more than the chefs. Get a thermometer. My favorite is the Thermapen. It’s about 80 to 90 bucks, but it’s worth it. It reads the temperature super fast and has this super sharp little needle on it that takes the temperature from the very tip of the meat. When they’re on the grill and you’re watching the chicken cook, stab it and check the temp. As soon as you’re at 160 degrees, pull the chicken. If it’s dry, it’s overcooked. You can also brine them ahead of time so you have a juicier bird. It’s very easy to brine the chicken, and there’s a million brining recipes. Just look up “chicken brine” or “pork brine” and you’ll find a million recipes. It’s basically a combination of sugar, salt and liquid. It helps your cooking when you can start with a juicier bird to begin with.

RQ: What are some of your hobbies outside of the kitchen?

JB: Oh man, where do I start. Definitely triathlon is one of my biggest. I run everything from the sprints to the Ironman. I’ve done 71 triathlons so far and 90 running races from 5k to marathons. I also love anything that I can do with my kids. We love hunting and fishing. My kids have really gotten into it. Fly fishing is one of my true passions. For my 50th next year I’m going to go fly fishing in New Zealand. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do forever. Photography has always been a passion even though I haven’t done it in awhile. Hunting, fishing, shooting, raising kids, exercising – I try to do it all. [laughs]

 RQ: What are some of your favorite restaurants in Fort Worth besides Bonnell’s, Waters, and Buffalo Brothers?

JB: Ellerbe is one of my absolute favorite. My wife and I love doing a date night or a lunch there. Little Lily’s sushi is one of our favorite sushi spots because they’re not using as many of the fake crab ingredient type things. It’s very authentic – great stuff. We also really like Fixture restaurant. They have great stuff there. We like to sneak over to Grace. Definitely a fun one over there. We’ll head down to the bar or the rooftop bar at Reata. That’s a fun spot to go. We’ll sneak over to Melt Ice Cream quite a bit. Oh, Tributary Café is very cool. They’ve got a great New Orleans vibe going on over there. For Mexican, we really like La Playa Maya quite a bit. For an enchilada dinner or a great nacho, that’s hard to beat.

RQ: I am still in high school but would like to own my own restaurant some day. Do you have any advice?

JB: That’s a fantastic question. Please send me an email, and I’d be happy to give you about 45 minutes worth of talking on whether you should go to culinary school or not. We’ll also talk about why owning a restaurant may or may not be something that’s right for you. College counsellors will have no idea what to tell you. Any high school kid that wants advice, I will be more than happy to sit down and talk with you because it’s a pretty long discussion. It’s a great industry and I love doing it, but it certainly isn’t for everybody. We can get it figured out whether or not you want to keep going with it within 30 to 40 minutes.

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