A sense of community is very important to Terra’s executive chef and owner Jeff Rossman. Whether he is in the stifling heat of his kitchen, in the dining room mingling with guests, or outside the confines of his restaurant, Chef Rossman is devoted to improving the lives of others. Be it through an exquisitely prepared meal, tireless volunteer work, or simply a welcoming smile, Chef Rossman seeks to create a San Diego community united by a shared love of food and mutual respect. This focus is exemplified by Terra, which for years has been warming the community with its welcoming and unpretentious atmosphere and masterful culinary creations.
Terra comes by its comfortable, familial air honestly. The Rossmans, a family of small-scale local restaurateurs, opened Terra in 1998, with it soon becoming a vehicle for son Jeff Rossman’s culinary experiments. Preceding Terra, the Rossman family owned a chain of local delis, whose success enabled them to open their first restaurant, Pam Pam Café and Grill in what is now the Daze Inn, in 1981. Chef Jeff Rossman began his culinary career as a lowly dishwasher in his family’s restaurant, working his way up and gradually teaching himself how to cook. After college and a Boston externship with star chef Michael Schlow, Chef Rossman returned to the family restaurant, serving bold dishes like seared fish with papaya salsa and steaks with chimichurri sauce that confounded assumptions about casual hotel cafes. Bolstered by the success of Pam Pam, Chef Rossman convinced his father to partner with him in Terra Restaurant, which opened its doors in 1998. Since its opening, Terra has been consistently gaining in notoriety, winning consistent praise from Zagat and Wine Spectator, in addition to regular acclaim from reader’s polls in San Diego Magazine and the Union Tribune for its exceptional service and cuisine.
Chef Rossman credits the culinary community in which he grew up for the development of his chef skills. Never receiving formal training, Chef Rossman learned as he moved up in his family’s businesses, acquiring his masterful cooking repertoire and knowledge by exchanging information and technical secrets with his fellow workers and kitchen superiors. It is this element of his culinary journey that fuels his strong humanitarian streak: as a veteran chef he is now in a position to give back to the community that helped fuel his own success.
Encouraging the growth and development of a culinary culture in San Diego, Chef Rossman donates a considerable amount of his free time to a variety of organizations and events. As a member of the Advisory Board for Central Elementary’s “From the Ground Up” garden project, a program which has recently garnered attention from the Childhood Obesity Initiative, Chef Rossman works to encourage more comprehensive nutrition education in local schools as well as to foster a greater awareness of food ways. As President of the Board for the Chef’s Celebration of San Diego, he works with fellow chefs to organize dinners to raise funds for culinary scholarships for local San Diego cooking hopefuls.
Despite the acclaim and notoriety Chef Rossman has received for his skills, he humbly assures us that Terra’s success is dependent on his staff: “Part of being a chef and a restaurateur is surrounding yourself with good people who take pride in their training.” He is so confident in the skills of his staff that he proudly states that he is “never on the line.” The masterful execution of his dishes is all initiated by his staff, while he concentrates on catering and managerial duties. It is this respect for his working community that drives his business, reflective in his praise for his staff. Chef Rossman disapproves of the type of prima donna personalities lauded in television programs like “Hell’s Kitchen.” He believes: “alot of chefs are really egotistical, yelling and throwing things. That’s not a way to treat people.” Instead, he recognizes the importance of courtesy, preferring to maintain a “fin[er] line between the roles of friend and manager.” The friendly atmosphere of camaraderie and good cheer is evident throughout Terra, where the warm smiles and helpful natures of staff create an inviting familiarity within the restaurant. In this way, Chef Rossman and the Terra team not only support the development of a culinary community throughout greater San Diego, but succeed in fostering a welcoming spirit of togetherness within the restaurant.