The Cajun and Creole dishes of his native Louisiana influence Chef Justin Simoneaux’s cooking at the recently opened Boxing Room. Simoneaux’s affinity for coastal Louisiana cuisine stems from growing up going hunting, fishing and enjoying frequent family seafood boils, fish fries, barbecues, pig roasts, and pots of gumbo. He absorbed recipes from his mother and grandmother and began cooking in a New Orleans seafood restaurant at age 15, where he worked his way up to line cook and then became kitchen manager by age 18. To gain more training and experience, the young budding culinarian enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco in 2005.
He worked and was promoted to the position of sous-chef under Chef Robert Cubberly at the now-closed Le Petit Robert in Russian Hill. Simoneaux says Chef Cubberly set his foundation for cooking and was a great mentor. In 2007, Simoneaux joined Coco500 as sous-chef, working with Chef-owner Loretta Keller. She hired him as her chef-de-cuisine to open The Moss Room at the California Academy of Sciences in 2008. The restaurant garnered three stars from Michael Bauer at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was a “Top 100 Restaurant” in 2009. Chef Simoneaux was also named a San Francisco Chronicle “Rising Star Chef” that same year. At the Boxing Room—named for the box factory that was once housed there years ago—many of Simoneaux’s personal favorites are highlighted on the menu: Cajun boiled peanuts; Louisiana seafood gumbo with brown rice and house-made Tasso; deep fried alligator; and New Orleans-Style stuffed artichoke. Michael Bauer said in his two and a half star August review of the restaurant that: “You'll get excellent fried oysters, fried alligator, fried chicken and fried seafood in the po' boy, but it's far from a greasy spoon because the kitchen takes a light, fresh approach.”
Simoneaux lives in the Haight and is dating Lynn Silva, who is a cook at Spruce. “We met while working at The Moss Room. Started out as friends and then realized we enjoyed a lot of the same things and fell in love.” The chef said that he would soon get some R&R via a New Orleans trip for Mardi Gras and his brother’s wedding.
“This kind of food takes time. For example, to get the right color of roux to make our gumbo, you need about an hour… and that’s before anything else hits the pot.”
Where do you source ingredients?
“Most of my vegetables come from Mariquita Farm and Star Route Field to Family Farms. For seafood, I get oysters and a couple of items from the West Coast but most of it comes from Louisiana.”
Favorite 2-3 food & drink spots?
“Alembic: I love their cocktails. Even if I’m not hungry I always find myself ordering the duck hearts and a slider, no matter what kind they are serving.
Absinthe: I go there after work since it’s only a block away. For a perfect late night snack, I go for the soft garlic pretzel and spicy pork meatballs. The cocktails are always great.
Date night favorites?
“The lady and myself are suckers for sushi. Our favorite go-to spot would probably be Domo in Hayes Valley.”
What’s your guiltiest food pleasure?
“I’ve been known to whip up a packet of Top Ramen. I don’t know why, but it is good.”
What is your favorite meal to have with friends and family?
“It would have to be a classic crawfish boil with all the fixins’ -- potatoes, corn, mushrooms, sausage, artichokes and ice cold beer (which I have all of this tattooed on my arm). My friends are all in the business, so we mostly cook together at one of our houses or in the park.”