A culturally culinary duo

April 9, 2016

Photo courtesy Rebecca Bennett.

BY MARK GOODSON — What do seven years in the Marines, a job in New York’s Latin Quarter — the Mecca for hip hop in the late 80’s — a ride in Donald Trump’s personal helicopter, a role in Asia Argento’s Film Scarlet Diva, the subject of a full-page article in Germany’s most popular print newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, a radio show on Italy’s Radio Capitol Music Network, and a two-year stay with the Prince of Morocco all have in common? They all are part of the life experience of Jahlex Alexander, partner, manager, and curator of Bird Kitchen and Cocktails in Mount Rainier.

Lenny Robinson and Jahlex Alexander are the managing partners behind Mount Rainier’s Bird Kitchen and Cocktails.

Lenny Robinson and Jahlex Alexander are the managing partners behind Mount Rainier’s Bird Kitchen and Cocktails.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Alexander moved to Long Island. “I went from street life to listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and wearing Jethro Tull t-shirts,” he said. This adjustment began a series of lifestyle changes for Alexander. “I adapted,” he said.

From a Jamaican mother and Syrian-Lebanese-Indian father, Alexander opted for the Marine Corp instead of college. Although it took him only a brief stint back home in Long Island at the Rockville Center Police Department to realize that he was not destined for law enforcement.

Working as a bouncer in New York’s midtown, he was exposed to the initiators of hip-hop: Public Enemy, Biz Markie, KRS-One. When director Oliver Stone later asked Alexander’s opinion of the original hip hop artists, Alexander drew from experience: “Grandmaster Caz? The Sugarhill Gang?”

“No. Dr. Seuss,” Alexander said he did not know at the time that Stone had taken hallucinogenic mushrooms.

A combination of timing and charm has landed Alexander in eclectic roles, befitting of his chameleon abilities. After some friendly banter with Donald Trump at first base of a charity softball game, Alexander was grateful for the lift back to New York in Trump’s helicopter. As for how he landed a job working for the Prince of Morocco? “I knew a lot of models,” he said with a laugh.

A zest for new experience propelled Alexander around the world. Even working for the Moroccan prince got old after a year, although it took another year to gracefully part from him. “The job drove me crazy,” he said. He wrote a song about his troubles called Paradise. “Paradise driving me insane / spend my day in an ocean of pain. … I can’t take it no more,” are some of the lyrics.

The question inevitable to understanding Alexander’s worldview is: why Mount Rainier? Alexander believes that life is a kaleidoscope of experience. The universe propels him in the right direction. “There is a vortex here,” he said of Mount Rainier. Alexander’s life has slowed down from the frenzy of celebrity it once was. “I qualify to get here. And my presence here will be only as integral as my meeting people,” he said.

Alexander’s first restaurant experience in the area was at Marvin on 14th and U Streets NW. He still found time to pursue his musical interests, laying down the last track of Thievery Corporation’s Culture of Fear. He met Eric Hilton at Marvin. “He’s been here too,” Alexander said of Bird Kitchen and Cocktails.

Alexander joined forces with Bird owner and chef Lenny Robinson in Jan. 2016. Robinson was an acclaimed French-style chef in Atlanta, Ga. before moving to the DC area. Bird Restaurant is his project; Alexander has helped the restaurant’s service and aesthetic. Like Alexander, there is no separation between Robinson’s life experience and his work. Take a popular brunch menu item: Fried Chicken and Doughnuts. “I know a lady in Atlanta named Patricia. She’s got the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. Knock on her door, and she’ll make you a plate,” Robinson said. His restaurant boasts the same casual, quality, and family-friendly dining.

“Traditional kitchens are concrete and systematic. Those are cookie cutter restaurants to me. I cook off the cuff,” Robinson said. Take the beet salad. “Roasted beet and goat cheese salad, but there’s some art to it. [The beets are] roasted in apple cider, and there’s pumpkin seed dressing. And we’re putting it down on the plate the right way.” Robinsons sous-chef is also trained in French cuisine.

Of the Bird dining experience, Robinson said “we’re trying to provide a little something for everyone at all times of the day. We’ve added some new staff members. We’re bringing it.”

So while Alexander meets with a local DC artist to provide a full-wall mural on Bird’s light beige-brick exterior, Robinson is in the kitchen cooking what he knows. “See that salad,” Robinson said, pointing to a customer’s dish. “Those brussel sprouts have a Vietnamese seasoning. I brought that up from Atlanta, from some Vietnamese chefs I knew.”

Alexander summed up the culture and fare of Bird this way: “Everything’s stripped away and it’s made with love.”

Bird Kitchen and Cocktails is located at 3801 34th Street, Mount Rainier.  Find out more information at www.bird-kitchen-cocktails.com.