Chef Robbie Jester // Photo courtesy of
Alison L. MacKenzie
“They can trust the guy that was on TV to make them something good to eat.”
That’s the sense Robbie Jester, head chef at Stone Balloon Ale House, gets when new customers visit the Newark restaurant these days.
Jester has appeared on the Food Network three times in the last several months, including the past two weekends while competing on “Guy’s Grocery Games.” On the show, hosted by iconic chef Guy Fieri, contestants must shop for ingredients and cook meals in a limited time period.
After being eliminated from the show in October, Jester was invited back to compete in its “redemption tournament.” He jumped at the opportunity. Jester made it to the final four, winning $16,000 on last week’s episode before the judges decided his duck breast—part of a meal with yams, gooseberry sauce, cherries and blue-cheese butter—was overcooked. He was eliminated during the episode that aired this past Sunday, May 1.
“The three other guys in the final [four] were just phenomenal, great cooks and a lot of fun to be around,” Jester says. “When it came time to go home, I was so proud of what I’d already done that I didn’t feel too bad about it.”
Jester’s somewhat unusual meat choice of duck was both a “swing for the fences” and a tribute to his father, who passed away in January. The older Jester was also a chef, and served as an inspiration, confidant and friend during his son’s career. He was battling Stage IV lung cancer when his son was filming episodes late last year; unfortunately, he was unable to see everything play out on television.
“We really were best friends,” Jester says of his father. “Whether [I] was going through problems with ownership or employees or a girlfriend—because it’s hard to be a chef’s girlfriend—he was one of the few people that really understood it.”
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Jester’s experiences on the Food Network—and the resulting positive feedback he’s received—have fueled his confidence, allowing him to express more of his identity as a chef.
“I write menus that excite me and that I enjoy,” he says. “On the culinary side of things, the food that I cook now is much more of me than it ever has been.”
Jester would not say whether he would be on the Food Network again.