Weiss traces path from pairs skater to chef, authorFormer U.S., international competitor writes about Spanish cuisine
It's an incredibly busy time for former pairs skater Jeffrey Weiss. His new restaurant, Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar, is about to open, and he's going over final edits on his book, Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain, which will be published in March 2014.
Since moving back to Northern California, he's tried to find time to visit his former skating coach and mentor, Tracy Prussack, in San Jose and offer a few words of wisdom to her male students, but his days have been packed. Although Weiss, 36, has found a new career, his skating roots are never far from his heart.
"The lessons I learned and the person I became as a figure skater have drastically impacted in a positive way who I am as a cook," Weiss said. "In many ways, it shaped the person I am today."
As a kid, Weiss skated at the same rink as Kristi Yamaguchi and Rudy Galindo. He found his way into pairs at a young age and as a teenager partnered with Erin Elbe, winning a silver medal in junior pairs at the 1995 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and twice competing in the world junior championships.
After Elbe retired, he teamed with Christie Moxley, with whom he trained in Delaware under Ron Ludington. He then teamed with Jessica Miller, finishing sixth in senior pairs at the 2000 U.S. Championships and earning a spot at Skate America. His final partner was Tiffany Sfikas.
It was after a great tryout with a prospective partner following the end of his partnership with Sfikas that Weiss knew it was time to leave skating.
"I thought I should be so excited that I found this awesome person, but I'm not excited," he recalled. "It was in that moment I realized I was done. As a skater you wonder, 'Am I going to know when it's my time?' In that moment, I knew."
Weiss had been fascinated with cooking since he was a kid, and he also had a growing interest in the restaurant world. In fact, as a teenager, in order to make money for skating, he'd had a job at a deli/restaurant, where he learned the basics of cooking.
"I wrote a business plan for a restaurant," Weiss said. "I didn't know the first thing about writing a business plan. I realized there was so much information I didn't know."
He enrolled at Mission College, a community college renowned for its hospitality program. In high school, his grades were decidedly mediocre due to the time spent training and competing, but in college he was a dedicated student.
"I busted my butt," said Weiss, who had a 4.0 average. "I was one of the only valedictorian candidates they ever had come out of the hospitality program."
While at Mission, Weiss met Steve Chan, whom he considers his first cooking mentor. Chan's restaurant was near the school, and when Chan asked Weiss if he liked to cook or serve people, Weiss responded he liked both.
"I like to cook, but I also like the hospitality side," Weiss said.
After Mission, Weiss went to Cornell University, world renowned for its hotel and hospitality school. While at Cornell, he met award-winning chef José Andrés. Weiss learned there was a scholarship to cook in Spain for a year and became one of only 12 people to win the ICEX scholarship.
"For six months, I was with Adolfo Muñoz. Then I did six months in Marbella with Dani Garcia," Weiss said. "In between the two, I got a chance to spend a month on this property in Extremadura, which is way out in the countryside. I was learning how to do all the charcuterie."
He returned to Cornell and finished his degree, and then went to New York and worked at a restaurant. He was approached to write the cookbook, which combines stories of his time in Spain along with insight into the deliciously porky, smoky, cured meat traditions.
Jeninni, at which Weiss is the chef, opens shortly in Pacific Grove, Calif. His partner is well known in the wine world.
"The cuisine is southern Mediterranean," Weiss said. "It's a modern wine bar. Lots of little plates. A couple of entrees. Lots of natural ingredients."