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FoodChef Jackie Carnesi Brings Her South Texas Spirit to an Iconic Brooklyn...

Chef Jackie Carnesi Brings Her South Texas Spirit to an Iconic Brooklyn Diner

We’re celebrating remarkable women in the worlds of food and design throughout Women Are Amazing Month (aka Women’s History Month, Food52-style). Is there a woman we should be profiling? Let us know.

Shortly after Jackie Carnesi arrived in New York City fresh out of culinary school, she became a fixture at one of Brooklyn’s biggest restaurant empires, Roberta’s. She’s been tapped to lead equally impressive restaurants ever since. Following Roberta’s, Jackie became executive chef at Nura, where she filtered her experience and South Texas upbringing—she grew up on Tex-Mex and Mexican cooking, alongside the Southern staples of her Tennessee mom—through the lens of Indian cuisine. Though this was unfamiliar terrain at the time, she gladly, easily met the challenge (Nura became a Michelin-recommended restaurant under her helm).

Now, she is about to head the kitchen of the former, iconic Kellogg’s Diner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, whose new menu will feature Tex-Mex and classic diner fare. As she prepares for its much-anticipated reopening this spring, Jackie—who is never one to resist flexing and stretching her talents—is simultaneously in charge of the nightly menu at Pan Pan Vino Vino, a new bakery/wine bar from the Nura team. In between this venture, perfecting her flour tortillas for Kellogg’s, and her busy family life—she affectionately calls 5-year-old boy, Hunter, the “light of my life and full-time wild animal”—she took a moment to tell us about the women who inspire her and how she’s feeling about the challenge that awaits her.

How does being a woman influence your work?

Jackie: I definitely think that being a woman in the industry has had an effect on my work, mostly as a manager. I think it has provided me a level of empathy for people who have maybe not had it so easy in this industry, but I also think I have a lot of influence on my career from being a mom. It’s taught me a lot of patience and understanding and vice versa—being a chef has taught me how to keep a cool head when your kid is having a temper tantrum. I’ve learned so much from both sides of my life.

Who are the women that inspire you in your industry?

I’m constantly inspired by women in this industry, whether chefs like Chef Aretah Ettarh over at Gramercy Tavern, or Chef Ryoko Yoshida at Marlow & sons and Diner, or Chefs Sam Short and Tajeh Porter as pastry chef and head chef, respectively, at Nura. I feel so grateful to be within a circle of amazing female chefs like Sohla El-Waylly, who also is so inspiring to me. She’s so deep rooted in her values and so vocal about that.

What’s the most difficult part of having a creative career?

I would say that the hardest part of being in a creative field, especially in New York City, is trying to keep up with all the other amazing chefs that are putting out so much beautiful food that’s really innovative. It’s really easy to get caught up in the idea that you’re supposed to constantly be creating, and not just creating, but creating something new that people have never seen before, and that’s a really high bar to hold yourself to.

Jackie outside of Kellogg’s, set to open in late spring 2024.

Photo by Carissa Diaz

How will you juggle work between Pan Pan Vino Vino and Kellogg’s?

Pan Pan Vino Vino was always meant to be a short-term thing, more of a consult gig, but I care so deeply for and have such a great working relationship with the team there, I’ll make myself available in whatever capacity they need me, whether that’s menu updates or training new staff or whatever.

What will be the challenge of running Kellogg’s compared to the challenge of Nura, where you had to teach yourself how to cook through an Indian lens?

Creating a Tex-Mex menu has been exciting for a number of reasons, but primarily because it’s the chance to cook food that is so close to my heart and reminds me so much of my hometown. Bringing that comfort into a city that I’ve made my home is very gratifying.

It’s challenging in ways Nura wasn’t. At Nura, there was the excitement of learning as much as I could about a culinary landscape that I wasn’t so familiar with (Indian cuisine) through a lens of a culinary landscape I was very familiar with (Mexican cuisine), and of course there was immense pressure to do it well, but the point was also to create something new, and non-traditional, and that came with a certain amount of freedom.

With Kellogg’s, the combination of Mexican and Tex-Mex, which has such a long history, has to live up to more defined expectations. There’s a different flavor of pressure involved and some of that is from my own background and culinary experience. At Nura, the bar was extremely high, but trying to recreate your mom’s or your grandma’s migas or flour tortillas? That’s personal.

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