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Q&A with Terra executive chef Jeff Rossman: how an involvement with restaurants started early

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Southern California native Jeff Rossman is executive chef and owner of Terra American Bistro, the East College area's first farm-to-table restaurant, focusing on sustainability and built with reclaimed materials. Rossman moved to San Diego in 1975 and in 1998 opened Hillcrest’s Terra Restaurant, which he helmed for 13 years before transitioning business to the East College area in 2011. Rossman is also executive chef and owner of Shalom Kosher Catering and Terra Catering.

Q: What was your first role in the restaurant industry?

A: Dishwasher for my dad's Pam Pam Café & Grill in Hotel Circle.

Q: Your family has long been involved in the San Diego food community. Were you destined to follow in their footsteps?

A: I tried not to at first. I remember when I debated telling my dad that I didn't want to work with him anymore after four years and when I went to UCSD and I got a job in the front office of what is now the Sheraton La Jolla. I guess when it's in your blood, you are destined.

Q: How did you develop your passion for sustainable food?

A: It all started in the garden at Central Elementary working with the kids eight years ago. I watched them come alive as they began growing their own organic produce, cook it and then fall in love with it. I began researching Alice Waters' "Edible Schoolyard" and took some ideas from that to help better our own school food in San Diego. I really got interested in the farm-to-table and locavore movement.

Q: If you weren't a chef, what career path would you take?

A: When I was young, my friend's dad was an orthopedic surgeon, and I long wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Q: You also own a kosher catering company. How important is being part of the Jewish community to you?

A: Very important. I grew up in Del Cerro where there was a very large Jewish community, and I was always part of Jewish organizations. Our kosher catering company was born out of a need for higher-end catering that wasn't available in San Diego.

Q: You closed Terra in Hillcrest after 13 years in business and recently opened Terra American Bistro in the East College area, long void of many eateries. How has the change affected you?

A: It has been eye-opening to say the least. The number of people out here who love great food is astonishing. People have been educated about food over the last few years, and their taste buds have changed so they've been waiting for something more sustainable with a farm-to-table philosophy. It has been a great move, and we're having a lot of fun. It definitely was a little bittersweet leaving Hillcrest though.

Q: What is your personal food philosophy?

A: Keep it simple. Let the flavors shine for themselves, and don't overwork the food.

Q: What farms and local artisans do you support?

A: Suzie's Organic Farm, Carlsbad Aqua Farm, local fishermen, Sage Mountain Farms, Cunningham Organics, Blue Heron Farm, Crows Pass Farm, Stehly Farms Organics, International Rescue Committee San Diego and more.

Q: Who is your favorite Food Network chef?

A: I really like Alton Brown because of his knowledge. He teaches about food science and history — something you can't easily learn on the job. And, as a self-taught chef, I learned nearly everything on the job.

Q: So you're self-taught. How, then, did you master your chops?

A: While in college, I watched hours upon hours of The Food Network and feverishly prepared food for my friends, and eventually their friends. I was nearly taking orders. I eventually took over as chef of my parents' restaurant in Mission Valley when they had trouble finding a good replacement for their chef who left. They were hesitant but finally relented to giving it a go. I was successful, and the rest is history. Even as a high schooler, I was in the restaurant at the crack of dawn on weekends. My dad told me to do what I wanted on Friday nights, but that I'd need to be at the restaurant bright and early the next morning. After one night of partying, followed by a very early morning, I quickly learned my lesson.

Q: What does the future hold? Another restaurant?

A: We've already been asked to put another Terra Bistro elsewhere. It's only been three months, so we'll see after another few months. But Terra Catering is still growing and keeping me busy.

San Diego native Scott Quan recently opened up Escape Fish Bar, a casual seafood restaurant with a Pacific Northwest, Asian and Latin American-inspired menu on 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Visit escapefishbar.com for more information.

After more than 25 years of business in the San Diego community, Sombrero Mexican Food, the family-owned and operated quick service Mexican restaurant, is now introducing its brand-new Franchise Program to the nation.

With nearly 20 locations in Southern California and Arizona, Sombrero will now offer franchise opportunities to qualified candidates.

"San Diego is the epicenter for good, quick Mexican food. That proves true from how well it is received here," said Javier Correa Jr., VP of Sombrero Mexican Food. "Outside of San Diego, however, no one does Mexican food like we do. We want people outside of Southern California to experience what we do best: serve San Diego-style, fresh and authentic Mexican dishes in a clean and welcoming environment."

With a detailed layout, the Franchise Program outlines everything from site guidelines, preferred demographics, franchisee qualifications and utility guidelines.

The original Sombrero opened in the college area of San Diego back in the 1960s. This is where many of Sombrero's recipes were created, as well as where the founder, Javier Sr., learned the family Mexican food business. In 1984, Javier reintroduced Sombrero to San Diego, this time as the quick service operation that it is today.

For more information email Ozzie Garcia at ozzie@sombreromex.com

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