By Anthony Abraria
Asheville – Jacob Sessoms is a hallmark of the culinary scene in Asheville with a special affinity to adaptation and evolution; not to mention a tenacious spirit for collaboration. His branding, business leadership and culinary prowess has established some of the city’s benchmarks for the finer dining forms.
Born and raised in the south, his nearly two-decade career as a chef has not only delighted patrons but has also earned him accolades such as the Rising Star Chef award in 2013 and as a semifinalist for the James Beard Award in 2010. Recent construction for the new El Gallo on 48 College has generated buzz just as he is preparing a rebrand for Table as it moves just down the street on 18 North Lexington.
We saw that Table was moving just down the street. I was wondering why you decided to open El Gallo in an established location rather than move it to where Table is going now?
Sessoms: We spent a fair amount thinking about that but decided that launching a new brand [El Gallo] in a pre-established location where the clientele was already used to visiting, gave us a unique opportunity; a better chance for something new to take hold of 48 College Street. As for Table, we’ve already been wanting to downsize and simplify, making it a more quaint and intimate dining experience. The way we saw it, Table could easily move into a smaller 25 to 35 seat dining room at its new location with our already established customer base that we have. It gave us the opportunity to really change Table. If we had only changed Table into some new format marketed as a post-COVID new version that’s even more hyper-focus on local ingredients with simpler plates wouldn’t easily translate to customers that such a transition was happening. If Table remained at the same space. Rearranging our physical location would really embrace this rebirth and customers wouldn’t miss this new milestone.
One could argue that there isn’t a shortage of Mexican food in Asheville, why did you decide to jump onto this saturated culinary niche at this point in time?
Sessoms: The impetus for opening El Gallo was more about a personal relationship than with addressing what Asheville quote on quote needs in the food and beverage sphere. Our local rag likes to ask what is Asheville missing every year. I don’t necessarily look at Asheville missing something or needing something like, “it needs this concept, more Vietnamese food, more Ethiopian food, why don’t we have a Cuban restaurant?” I get excited about creating experiences that are fun, vibrant and worthwhile for clients looking to go out and having a quality meal with care, love and thoughtfulness.
El Gallo is about my relationship with Luis Martinez who is a very talented artist and artisan; both digitally, on paper, and with his own food. We love to cook together and have done so for a long time. When he came, wanting to do a pop-up, I relished in the opportunity to cook with him and learn his family’s cooking traditions but funneled through the lens of my restaurant space. El Gallo is just that but with bricks and mortar. It’s his cooking, the foods and flavors of the Zapotec, the indigenous people of Oaxaca. His grandmother’s and mother’s recipes but adaptive through our Western North Carolinian culture and through the methodology or my philosophy of how I approach food and beverage. We created a space where the food is regionally specific to the Zapotec traditions but it’s curated in a way that is approachable enough and seasonably relevant.
What are your thoughts on a restaurant entrepreneur’s responsibility has to a budding talent within their team?
Sessoms: There are a lot of chefs that move in the same trajectory where you open your concepts and your own creations; you are the principle. You are the creative as well as the business principle but at some point, you need to start handing off that, some of that creative power, over to someone else. I am in a growth pattern in my career but if I want to continue down that path, I need to continue learning new food and beverage concepts. More so I need to tap into those people that have the power and the creative strength to make more concepts with me. They need to be part of the principle structure and Luis was a great fit for that. He has an incredible life story. He is an incredibly positive, warm and friendly human being and he fits in the company. To me, he brings a flavor of Mexican cuisine that we don’t have here.
What is the top piece of advice you would give restaurant owners and up-and-coming businesses in Asheville during this time?
Sessoms: I think this time period we are experiencing and the difficulties we are going through are not what we are used to dealing within business. This is more a learning experience about how we are dealing with life. Life gives us particular setbacks when we think we aren’t ready to handle them. Embracing the struggle and learning to deal is the core to survival; whether life or business. This is just like that. The things that seem most assured may fail but that is not the end of the day.
Editor’s Note: Luis Martinez is a local graphic designer, marketing strategist and tech professional at Whitney Commercial Real Estate who has set out to map the best taquerias in Asheville.