Hot flames from a stove in Lenoir Dining, the sound of a steak searing and sharp knives whittling away at vegetables is what chef Dru Jones lives for.
Jones is a food specialist at Ole Miss where he has worked for the past four years. A food specialist is someone who oversees food preparation and ensures that it is presented at the highest quality.
His journey with food began back when he was a child, eating good Southern food and TexMex while growing up in Houston, Texas.
Being able to cook for a living as well as sharing his skills and knowledge with students drives forward his culinary career.
“People that do what I do, we all want to work. We love what we do, and that’s why we work a hundred hours a week,” he said.
Jones didn’t originally go to school for anything food related, it really was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“When I first started cooking, it was almost out of necessity,” Jones said, explaining how he stumbled onto food rather than intentionally going to study it. “I took a break from school after moving back to Oxford, and I hadn’t eaten in a couple of days, but I knew I was going to start working in a restaurant. And I was hungry.”
Jones learned to appreciate his time in the kitchen and the ingredients that went into the food, which helped further ignite his passion. He then decided to finally put this knowledge to practice.
To complete an entire year of school quicker, Jones attended culinary school from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for three months straight in the program at Johnson & Wales University in Miami..
After graduation, Jones permanently moved to Florida with his wife to begin his career, where he spent roughly 12 years working executive chef jobs.
“I was married and had a baby on the way all while working 100-hour work weeks,” Jones said. “I was executive chef at three different restaurants before I was 30 years old.”
Jones was already a successful chef early in his life, but he did not want to miss out on time with his family. So he and his family moved to Miami where he went back to Johnson & Wales to teach in one of their food labs and earn his bachelor’s degree.
After a few years working outside the restaurant industry, Jones decided to move back to Oxford to be closer to his retired parents. Once the move was complete, he was asked to join the City Grocery Restaurant Group as the corporate chef at Bouré. Jones moved around within the different restaurants during his four-year span with the company.
Jones had gone back to working 80, 90, or 100-hour work weeks. After coming home one day from a long shift, his wife informed him that a position in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality at Ole Miss had opened.
With 31 years of experience, as well as having worked in kitchens across the country, Jones believed he was the best for the job due to his culinary and business knowledge.
“The cool thing about what I do is that I still get to teach and cook. In Lenoir Hall, we have a 40-seat restaurant that I run on campus,” Jones said. “I just get to go home at night and go to the football games on the weekends.”
He still fulfills his love for cooking while also sharing his knowledge and expertise with students.
“We teach the business side. It’s not all fun and making the food taste good, we’re trying to teach people how to manage a business. So when you’re an owner or manager, you can facilitate that side of it as well,” he said.
The current state of the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality at Ole Miss is heavily focused on the business aspect of the job. According to Jones, it’s like training for a hotel manager who needs to know what the food they serve should look like.
“This isn’t culinary school,” Jones said. “We’re not training people to be chefs, we’re not training people to wait tables, but we wanna give you that knowledge.”
However, in the future, Jones and the rest of the staff at Lenoir Hall are hoping to expand and possibly make the program more culinary-focused.
“Everyone here at Lenoir is hoping we can expand or get into a new building to get more culinary arts focused courses and even a minor,” Jones said.
Even with Jones’ busy schedule of teaching and cooking, he still loves every second.
“Some people have to separate their work from their passion, but their work will pay for their passion. For me, cooking is all I got. It might not pay much, but it fulfills my need to create.”
For more information on Dru Jones and Lenoir Dining, you can visit their website.