Q&A with Toney Robertson, chef at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus

Anthony Dominic
Toney Robertson got an interview at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus on a lucky accident-he was looking for a cooking job at the nearby Wexner Heritage House when he walked into the JCC by mistake.

What kind of cooking did you grow up around?

Southern cooking. Non-kosher food, definitely. My family's from Tennessee, the Nashville area. I always wanted to cook. My uncles, they used to own a business here, a fish market on Long Street. People came in, bought fish out of the case, got it fried up. And I saw that, and I wanted to do it.

How did you make your way to the JCC?

I left The Lakes Golf and Country Club as the assistant sous chef, and I was looking for a job at the [Wexner] Heritage House. So many people who come around think [the JCC] is the Heritage House. I came in here for the interview [by accident], and it so happened the chef that was here was leaving.

Is there any one quality that makes a great kosher chef?

You have to be patient. You have to love what you do. I can't use milk, so what can I sub? I can't use this-what can I sub? I don't think of it as being hard. It's just food.

Do you have any signature dishes?

People clamor over the fried chicken. My grandma made a mean fried chicken. We do a lot of pizza, mac and cheese, barbecue brisket.

How do you stay inspired?

We run a food cart out here, and me and [the catering and rentals manager] sat down and looked at: What do people want to have that you can't really get around here that's kosher? We were looking at deli menus and things going on in New York. A pastrami burger? Yeah, we can find a way to do that. If I'm sitting here with my friends and they bring me a kosher meal, am I going to get matzo balls, soup and tuna salad? We don't do that.