He grew up in the Florida panhandle in a place called Niceville (true story) where waterfront property was not yet reserved for the elite. With the ocean as his ‘playground’, you could almost always find him on a fishing boat reeling, peeling, cleaning and cutting Redfish, Cobia, shrimp and whatever else was caught that day. So, it was no surprise that at 16 he was already cooking on the line at The Marina Cafe.
In the summer, he would head inland to join his grandparents in Alabama on their working farm. They raised chickens, hogs and horses, grew their own vegetables, churned their own butter and made their own blackberry jelly preserves from fresh picks of the day. They got up early. They went to bed late. They ate what they raised. To others it’s the definition of the “farm-to-table” concept that’s become the new restaurant buzzword. To Jeff it was just the way things were, a way of life.
When he was 18, Jeff left Florida to go cook in Charleston, SC, where he dove even deeper into low country cuisine. “I found it very hard to leave this Southern Belle and spent 6 years cooking, fishing, and livin’ in Charleston,” says McInnis.
Jeff sought to broaden his palette and began a series of culinary adventures; First as Sous Chef at Asolare, a Caribbean-Asian restaurant in St. John, Virgin Islands. Next, in San Francisco, at fine dining Asian-French restaurant Azie, where he learned Japanese cuisine from renowned sushi chefs while at the same time polishing his French techniques. And then to rural Virginia, where he worked at Keswick Hall, an exclusive 5-star hotel built on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Estate and owned by the Orient Express. Named Fossett’s in honor of Jefferson’s chief cook at Monticello, Edith Fossett, the restaurant served up Southern/French cuisine in a fine dining atmosphere.
It was here that Jeff was able to begin mixing his passion and talent for fine Southern cooking.
Missing the sun and surf, McInnis moved back to Florida in 2004 to work with famed Chef Norman Van Aken at Norman’s in Miami. Just one year later, he became Chef de Cuisine of The Ritz Carlton Dining Room. While there, McInnis traveled to North Africa and Europe where he reveled in the history, techniques and, of course, the food, and ultimately incorporated these experiences into creating a signature Southern Mediterranean and
North African-inspired menu for The Ritz Carlton.
Shortly thereafter, McInnis was one of only 17 chefs selected nationwide to appear on the popular television show, Top Chef, putting McInnis and his talent front and center on a national stage. Preferring the ‘heat of the kitchen’ to ‘the heat of the Klieg lights,’ McInnis got back to what he loved and utilized his signature culinary style to develop a highly acclaimed menu as the Executive Chef for what would quickly become one of Miami’s most popular restaurants, gigi.
After the tremendous success of gigi, and more than twenty years of embracing and absorbing cuisines as a student of food, McInnis is now doing what he’s been working towards for years: bringing his eclectic and inventive style to the tastes of the classic
Southern cuisine he grew up with.