Private chef John Clayton's food is a feast for the eyes. In fact, colorful side dishes and artfully plated entreés are becoming his signature. Clayton is forming a name for himself by incorporating fresh local veggies into his catered dishes, proving that party food doesn't have to be bad for you.

In the past two years, health issues have forced Clayton to step away from the busy and often physically demanding restaurant world to focus on creating healthy, low-fat food. He is now offering private catering services for small gatherings and dinner parties under his business, Jam Jam. We caught up with Clayton to learn more about his food and what inspires him.

How would you describe your food to someone who has never tried it? I call it party rustic. It's rustic plating with a little bit of an edge, a little bit of a personality. It's like your good old comfort foods. I like making traditional food, but tweaking it just a little bit, maybe not even in the flavor but just the way it looks. I think that's important, especially these days when people are eating with their eyes so much more. If they get that familiar dish that they've heard of, but it's on a little more of an elevated level, they can really appreciate it.

What are some of your signature dishes? Seafood and seasonal veggies prepared multiple ways are what I really like to go to. Also, I like a lot of the Mediterranean diet. I love lentils and all the ancient grains. I think that you can get a lot for your body through [those], even though a lot of people don't think they can. I also love building Buddha bowls with things from the ground up.

What are your current favorite flavors to work with? Pickling is something I've been working on a lot in the past few months. I also love using what's available in the area and in season and using it in a variety of ways. Also, different types of nuts.

Where are some of the places you've gathered your culinary knowledge and experience? I loved working at Gilardi's. I have a lot of respect for James Martin over there. I was a good friend of his even before he decided to purchase the place. Another place I enjoyed working at was called Frisco Crossing Restaurant [which also offered catering]. Now this place is no longer in business, but I learned more in that catering company than I did in any time in culinary school. David Spivey [formerly of Frisco Crossing] who still lives in Springfield, is probably my biggest inspiration when it comes to cooking and developing flavors. He really showed me what works and what doesn't.

Are there any other people in the Springfield community who you look to for inspiration? Every farmer that exists. I love the Millsap family, everybody at Urban Roots Farm, and Lesley and Barry [Million] from Terrell Creek Farm.

How has catering been a different experience than working in a restaurant? I've always enjoyed working on a line or working at a station, but I've always loved catering. I enjoy the rush of it. No matter what, something always goes wrong and you really have to use your brain in ways you didn't think you had to in order to make calls and tweak things.

Jam Jam, 417.893.1414,

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Tessa is a freelance writer and photographer in Springfield, Missouri. She enjoys the finer things in life like cappuccinos and free samples.

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