As part of our new “Stern Hobbies” series, The Oppy is taking a look at off-the-beaten-path interests among some of our classmates at Stern. If you have a hobby you would like to write or be interviewed about, please e-mail the Oppy at [email protected]. Today’s feature is a Q&A with MBA2 and home chef extraordinaire, Michael Jarboe.
Michael Jarboe likes to keep things spicy. While stationed in Italy as a Submarine Officer in the US Navy, Jarboe developed a passion for all things culinary and began trying to concoct the perfect chili sauce. After some trial and error, Jarboe’s Chili Crisp was born. Although it is not yet commercially available, The Oppy is fortunate enough to interview the creator and will hopefully have some reserved when it inevitably hits shelves worldwide.
Tell us about yourself! Where are you from and what brought you to Stern?
I grew up in one of those “one stoplight” towns in Kentucky where the one small corner store in town doubled as a drive through liquor store, a movie rental place, a deli, a drug store, and a fencing business. The town has come a long, long way since I was a kid, but it’s still the place where you’ll find a bunch of pickup trucks with custom built smoke stacks parked at the local Walmart (YEEHAW). While I love my old Kentucky home and my friends and family there, I knew I wanted to leave my hometown. While getting my Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Kentucky I found out about this program in the Navy where they let “20-somethings” operate reactors and drive submarines while travelling the world. I was sold. After a couple months of screenings and tests I interviewed with the 4-star Admiral in charge of the Navy’s entire nuclear power program. After the most terrifying interview I will likely ever have, I was officially a future Submarine Officer.
I did 8 years in uniform, starting with two years of training all over the east coast. After getting the green light to actually operate a real submarine, I was stationed just outside of Seattle on the USS Nevada where I lived the real-life version of “Crimson Tide” (a submarine movie starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman that features a lot of mutiny and a little bit of nuclear war – worth a watch). Having successfully avoided mutiny and nuclear war during my time on the Nevada, the Navy found me good enough to ship over to Naples, Italy for my next stop. There I was a Strategic Advisor to the Commander of US Navy forces in Europe/Africa on classified assets, which was a VERY cool job in an UNBELIEVABLE place to live. It showed me what a job outside of the Navy could look like. I was working directly with decision makers whose decisions had titanic implications. Not only did they employ tens of thousands of US Service Members, but they also had international responsibilities and very thin lines to walk while keeping allies happy and adversaries at bay. Ya know, like, managing “stakeholders” from many different organizations and coordinating with the “C-Suite” kinda stuff.
I was loving the far-reaching impact I was having on real-life, tangible operations, but I knew that the very strict and structured career path in the Navy would have made it difficult to be able to replicate the impact I was having there. After seeing many of my submarine peers transition to top tier business schools and doing a lot of research, I found that a transition to business would enable me to choose my own adventure and have a tremendous impact on whatever industry I wanted. For me, the choice was clear – b-school or bust. And as far as which school, Stern offered the best veteran program in the country and was located in the heart of NYC. Another no brainer there.
Can you tell us about your chili sauce venture and how that started?
Chili Crisp’s origins can be traced back to my time under the sea. Submarine grub is not so bad when compared to our Army and Marine Corps brethren who have to eat rehydrated beef pieces in the middle of a field; compared to what normal humans eat, it has some room to improve. Each deployment I found myself packing hundreds of dollars’ worth of different condiments and sauces to add a little zip, heat, crunch, and any other interesting flavor to our Sub Grub. Naturally, this condiment fanaticism took root in my life above the water as well. Soon I began a quest to find the best sauces that the world had to offer. Luckily the Navy moved me over to Naples, Italy where I could explore all the different flavors and ingredients from Europe and beyond.
My roommate back in Naples is my current business partner and fellow submariner, Ryan Brown, who like me, shares a fervor for condiments having also survived a stint under the water. While living overseas we traveled at any chance we got and we were sure to center every trip around food and the interesting condiments/toppings that each place had to offer. Of course, we tried all of the local cuisines, but we also found ourselves eating a lot of Asian food. Turns out that the Italians can whip up the best pasta and pizza in the world (duh), but they don’t have a damn clue how to make a bowl of ramen, any rice dish besides risotto, or really any noodles that aren’t covered in a traditional red or white sauce, so we had to get our fix of the Far East as we travelled about. During our travels we kept coming across this crunchy, spicy, savory oil topping that we were fascinated by. We looked for places to purchase it and short of online bulk orders we didn’t have access to it in Naples, so we decided to make our own.
After many trials and tests and a couple extraordinarily spicy batches, we developed a recipe that perfectly balances out. The crunchy, salty, savory notes sing in perfect harmony and have just a kiss of heat to keep things interesting. We found ourselves using it on absolutely everything from pizza to soup to ice cream! We even convinced some stubborn Italians to perform the sacrilegious act of slathering it on some pizza to very positive reviews. Our less stubborn friends and coworkers were infatuated with our creation. They implored us to take up selling the sauce, but we just gave it away as gifts while overseas as we were often too distracted by vineyards, volcanoes, and the Mediterranean Sea.
When we moved back to the states, Ryan went to the Pentagon, and I started at Stern. Ryan started to make bigger and bigger batches of the chili crunch condiment and started selling it to friends and coworkers around DC to overwhelmingly positive reviews. People were buying multiple jars at a time so they could both keep a steady supply for themselves, and give them away as gifts! We knew that there could be something here, but as the business school student I knew we needed to work on the branding. Enter “Jar” + “Bow”.
I’ve gone by my last name for almost my entire life. Turns out that Jarboe is just a more interesting word than Michael and it has led to nicknames like “JarFro” and “JarBro,” which are just fine with me. Being a huge fan of puns and the visual part of memory, I usually introduce myself as “Jarboe… so like a ‘jar’ with a little ‘bow’ on it” because it seems to stick. Then something clicked as I was about to finish making a “jar” of our chili crunch condiment and I slapped a bow on it so that the “jar” with a “bow” would also become a “Jarboe”. Proudly I posted it on Instagram in hopes that the world would enjoy the pun as much as I did, and a fellow submarine officer turned lawyer, Jordan Foley, who runs a non-profit centered on veterans in the culinary arts called Chow (check them out! letschow.org), liked it so much that he offered to sell the “Jarboes” out of his upcoming fleet of food trucks: “Jarboe’s Chili Crisp” was born.
How and when did your interest in cooking begin?
Being an engineering and science type, I’ve always been fascinated with the science of cooking and how a single ingredient like a chicken egg can act so differently depending on timing and temperature and technique. Some real nerd stuff, but I’m here for it. I’ve always liked cooking, but my exposure to different cuisines and techniques was pretty narrow until I moved overseas. There I was swimming in a sea of spectacular flavors that I couldn’t get enough of and it’s where I went to my first Michelin Starred restaurant. For a going-away dinner we went to Ristorante Reale, which is in the very rural countryside between Naples and Rome. This 3-star Michelin Restaurant was the #24 rated restaurant in the world at the time and as my first foray into top tier fine dining I, unsurprisingly, was absolutely blown away by the meal. In particular, there was a humble dish whose only ingredients were cauliflower and salt that was astounding. I couldn’t understand how something that looked so simple could have such an incredible depth of flavor and I realized the levels of deliciousness that can be unlocked with a deep understanding of the science behind the ingredients.
After the meal I bought a bunch of nicer kitchen equipment and started to really lean into cooking, but with so much good and cheap food available overseas I often got distracted by a 5 euro pizza and 2 euro table wine. Fast forward to March 2020 and I suddenly had a lot of free time and a lot fewer distractions keeping me from cooking as much. I flew out to California to be with my lovely girlfriend who is an Active Duty Navy Nurse, and fate be dammed as soon as I landed in San Diego, she got ordered to the Hospital Ship that was to be stationed in NYC. Stuck in San Diego with nothing besides a lazy greyhound to keep me company, I turned all my free time into experimenting in the kitchen. Fermenting, pureeing, and flambéing became things I regularly did as cooking cool and delicious stuff became the singular hobby that I am still crazy about today.
What’s your favorite recipe to make?
As much as a technically challenging recipe with 1,000 ingredients can be a rewarding exercise, I most enjoy making dishes with a few basic ingredients. The ability to make something “greater than the sum of its parts” I find more interesting and in some ways more challenging than the longer and more complicated ones. Unsurprisingly, the recipes that stand out with this method are old school Italian ones. Cacio e pepe, carbonara, and pasta al limone (cooked the authentic Italian way-meaning they are void of any cream used to overcome poor technique) can be absolutely beautiful dishes when done right. Moreover, the simplicity and perfection of the dishes bring me back to a place where I really fell in love with food and allow me to daydream about the night when a piece of cauliflower opened my eyes to a crazy world of possibilities.
Where can we buy your chili sauce (or other condiments you make)?
If you find yourself in Washington DC in May 2021 or beyond, be sure to check out one of Chow’s food trucks (letschow.com) to support us and other transitioning veterans. We’re not commercially available yet (getting the branding perfect and finding ways to avoid affixing thousands of bow ties is our current task) but be on the lookout at your local high-end market for a fleet of Jarboes to sit handsomely bow-tied on the shelf. We can certainly handle some orders as we ramp up though so please reach out to me ([email protected]) to pick up a jar or to pass some opinions or advice. I’d be happy to receive feedback from anyone who has gone through a similar process as we are trying now.