Bad Jeff’s Barbeque

Consistency and quality are the most important things

The owner and head chef of Bad Jeff’s Barbeque, Jeff Cohen, speaks about his newly opened restaurant with the kind of serious thoughtfulness characteristic of talented artists.

He is well versed in the many different techniques associated with his art form, barbequing. He references several other people in his field whom he admires and wishes to emulate, including Lori and Dean Selby of the restaurant U Kurelu and Sansho owner Paul Day. He speaks about his creative process as an exercise in trial-and-error, because he knows, as the very best always do know, that he can always improve and innovate.

From the staff he hires to the dishes he includes on his menu, Jeff does not arrive at his decisions lightly.

“Consistency and quality are the most important things,” he repeats.

He has been living in Prague for the past 20 years and has helped open 16 restaurants both in Europe and in his home country of the United States. He previously manufactured a brand of beef jerky also named Bad Jeff’s. This is the first restaurant he has owned himself.

“I’ve worked for over 100 restaurants,” he says of a career influenced by his upbringing. There have been restaurants in his family “going back 60 years.”

Jeff’s mother owned the wonderfully named Maggie Mae’s Chili Parlor in St. Petersburg, Florida, and his grandfather had a small kosher deli in New York.

“I’ve been cooking barbeque for most of my life,” he says. As a foreigner in The Czech Republic, he “saw an opportunity to do something here” that utilized his skills and interests.

It helps that these interests align so nicely with the local tastes. Barbeque “fits well with beer,” he says. And of course, “Czechs love meat.”

But they’ve never seen meat quite like this before.

“I don’t do traditional barbeque. My ribs and brisket don’t get smoked at all,” Jeff explains. Neither does he boil his meat, a popular method he believes “is not great” for preserving flavor.

Instead, he braises “long and slow.” The meat at Bad Jeff’s Barbeque is braised for 8-12 hours.

He describes the restaurant’s cuisine as “new-age fusion barbeque.” His favorite dish may be the blackened shrimp and grits that he imports from the U.S. “I don’t know any other restaurant in Europe that does grits,” he says of the ground and boiled corn kernels.

They’re very popular in the southern U.S., but grits and barbeque are not typical of the kind of upscale dining world with which Jeff is professionally familiar.

“I come from a fine-dining background,” says the former chef of restaurants Mood and Artisan, “but it’s not necessarily the kind of food that we do… fine-dining barbeque doesn’t make any sense.”

The interior of his restaurant located on Americka Street in the trendy Vinohrady neighborhood is unfussy. The walls are exposed brick and the chairs are covered in a simple cream upholstery. A few plants hang from the ceiling and a little light shines into the underground dining area from windows that are located at street-level.

“It’s a comfortable setting with high-quality food,” says Jeff succinctly. The décor doesn’t need to be anything other than unobtrusively pleasant, for “the food speaks for itself.”

I don’t do cheap and I don’t do quick,” he says.

To that end, although he hopes to open in early May the terrace at the back of Bad Jeff’s Barbeque, he will not do so if the details are not up to snuff.

“If it’s not right, we’re not going to do it,” he explains, before adding what could well serve as his credo as restaurant owner, chef, and barbeque artisan: “You do it right, not right now.”

Bad Jeff’s Barbeque:

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