Kitchen Confidential

At the table with award-winning chef Jason Goodenough ’97.

Sandra Guzmán
January 27, 2020
Chef Jason Goodenough in the kitchen of his New Orleans restaurant

Jason Goodenough ’97 was destined to be a chef. As a young boy, when he wasn’t helping his grandparents cook in their Minnesota greasy spoon along the Mississippi River, he was globe-trotting with his foodie parents, dining in the world’s finest eateries.

One meal from his childhood gastronomic jaunts offered a particularly telling hint at his future calling. When he was 7 years old, his parents took him to the three-Michelin-star L’Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux de Provence, France. He ordered a lobster soufflé, which he tasted and quickly sent back to the kitchen. “There was something about the texture that was not right,” he still recalls. Now knowing the Herculean effort it takes to run a restaurant that satisfies fussy palates, Goodenough feels a little guilty about the drama he may have caused the kitchen of the legendary chef Jean-André Charial. “What did I know?” he chuckles. “I was just a kid eating lobster soufflé.”

Yet it’s precisely Goodenough’s discerning taste buds and his self-described fanatical drive to serve quality dishes that help the New York City native win over food critics and food lovers alike. New Orleans Magazine named Goodenough Chef of the Year in 2018. That same year, his modern Southern bistro, Carrollton Market, was named Top 10 by The Times-Picayune, Louisiana’s leading newspaper.

First course

During his time at the Academy, Goodenough admits, he would never have predicted he would end up becoming a chef and owning his own restaurant. He enjoyed taking history classes and sports, playing on the varsity football and track teams. “Academically,” he says, “I struggled somewhat due to a pretty severe case of undiagnosed ADHD.” 

It took me a while to find the confidence that I could live sustainably from a career as a chef.”

Food remained a private passion until Goodenough’s upper year, when he devoted his Reporter-at-Large project to researching and interviewing Mexican cooks at Soup Burg, a burger joint on New York’s Upper East Side. “It was around the corner from my house,” he says. “The place had nine seats with a kitchen that was about 80 square feet. I was fascinated by the tiny amount of space in which these guys were able to work. I wrote about the process of making the burger: reaching into the refrigerated meat cooler with an ice cream scoop, placing it on the grill, and pushing it down with the underside of a giant spatula.”

After graduation, Goodenough studied economics at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, with plans to follow his father, Gary “Goose” Goodenough ’65, to Wall Street. “I loved food but I never thought I could make it into a career,” he explains. “It took me a while to find the confidence that I could live sustainably from a career as a chef.”

Learning from the best

A gig as a line cook emboldened him, and he decided to devote all of his efforts to cooking. He enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, located in New York’s Hudson River Valley, and never looked back. After culinary school, he trained and worked under some of the country’s most celebrated chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, Masaharu Morimoto and Georges Perrier. “I chose jobs with the belief that in order to be the best, one has to work for the best chefs that will hire you,” he says. “I think that working for chefs like this can provide cooks with a few things, the first and most obvious is technique — each chef has things that they do uniquely.”

Cherry-picking techniques from each of his mentors and adapting them, Goodenough developed his own unique culinary style. By 2014, he was ready to open his own restaurant. At the time, his wife, Dr. Amelia Goodenough, was in her third year of residency at Tulane University and pregnant with their second child — circumstances that informed Goodenough’s choices. “It was very important that the restaurant be up and running in order for me to take a step back and be home with the baby a bit,” says the 41-year-old chef. He found a turnkey space in the historic Riverbend district and opened Carrollton Market, an eatery with a modern Southern vibe that marries the bounty of local ingredients found in Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico with touches of the world’s cuisine. 

Chef Jason Goodenough in his New Orleans restaurant

Carrollton Market’s menu is like an edible soundtrack of Goodenough’s upbringing — diners can taste the flavors of Thailand, France, Italy, Korea, Morocco, Mexico, Malta, Japan and his new home, the Gulf South. There’s pork belly al pastor with poblano peppers and cotija cheese; seared Gulf shrimp crepinnette with Thai yellow curry and gochujang; and whole roasted fish with his new take on the Provence staple kale pistou.

Goodenough’s culinary style, he says, is “ingredient-driven,” with sustainability at the core. “The thing that catalyzes each and every dish at Carrollton is great product,” he says, adding that he thoughtfully sources vegetables and fruits from local farmers and fish from small fisheries. His dishes often feature American red snapper and blue crab caught in the coastal lagoons of Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf region. For the past three years, Goodenough has partnered with Healthy Gulf, which promotes sustainability in the region’s waters. The area, like many parts of the country, is experiencing the tension of climate change and conflicting interests: sustainability versus land and sea use. “I had no idea how political fish could be,” he says.

Collaborative cuisine

But the secret to Chef Goodenough’s sauce is inspired by the Academy. Before any dish makes it onto the menu, he puts it through a rigorous Harkness discussion. “My collaborative approach, Harkness-style, is something that does make me stand out,” he says. “While the buck certainly starts and stops with me and the vast majority of the dishes are created by me, I seek input from everyone on my staff.” 

Harkness kicks into full gear when Goodenough prepares a new dish. “Everyone stands around, tastes it and then shares their opinions. What can we do to improve the dish? Is it menu-worthy? Is there enough salt? Too little? Enough acidity? If so, is it the right acid? Would lemon juice serve better than white wine vinegar? What about sherry vinegar? Is the sauce right? Is the cooking technique the right one for this dish?” 

The collaboration of dissecting, exploring and listening to everyone’s opinions not only results in delectable food, but also unites his employees. “We are a small team in a small space — sometimes you find us rolling pasta in the dining room,” he explained. “When everyone is heard and participates in creating what we serve, it encourages a sense of ownership.”

Jason Goodenough and his team

Over the years Goodenough has stayed in touch with the Academy and former class-mates such as Chris Johnson ’97, who is now a pastry chef with Cronut creator Dominique Ansel. When Goodenough was invited to prepare a meal for the James Beard Foundation, he knew exactly whom he would ask to prepare the dessert course — his former PEA teammate. “Chris was at Main Street and I was in Ewald and we were big dudes, which put us in a lot of places at the same time: linemen on the football team, shot-putters on the track team,” he says. “I don’t remember Chris having a huge interest in food then, but I don’t know if I wore my interest on my sleeve either.” 

When everyone is heard and participates in creating what we serve, it encourages a sense of ownership.”

The gathering was a success. “It was really great reuniting with Chris,” he shares. “There were about a dozen Exonians [there] and we had a blast.” At one point Goodenough remembers holding a huge black truffle above classmates’ heads and making it rain truffle shavings. The proud Exonian is also actively involved in non sibi work within his local community. “Chefs are asked to do a staggering amount of charity events, and for me it’s important to serve my community and not just prepare fancy dishes for rich people,” he says. “Every Wednesday, my kitchen crew and I cook for a group of homeless and hungry folks in my neighborhood at Okra Abbey.” Goodenough also serves on the board of Café Hope, a center on New Orleans’ West Bank that provides culinary and life skills training for at-risk youth. With the help of his staff, he remade Café Hope’s kitchen and culinary curriculum.

This spring, Goodenough was back in Provence, France, with his wife and two young daughters, 9-year-old Eloise and 5-year-old Penelope. He says he gazed at the restaurant he went to as a boy from the cliffs above and enjoyed the dazzling scenery. However, the family did not go in to taste the lobster soufflé. “My children are definitely not the types to enjoy that kind of a meal.”

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2020 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.