Chef Jackson Kalb, a Los Angeles native, knew he wanted to be a chef at age 12. He began working at Melisse Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA during his teen years, and after high school he moved to Las Vegas to work at Joël Robuchon in the MGM Grand Hotel. A graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Chef Jackson learned how to run a business in the hospitality industry. While attending Cornell, he worked at Chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea Restaurant in Chicago as well as at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City. After graduating, Chef Jackson worked as a culinary manager for the Hillstone Restaurant Group, spent time traveling around Italy, worked as the Chef de Cuisine at Factory Kitchen and as the Executive Chef at Bottlefish (both in Los Angeles, CA). Chef Jackson will be opening his first restaurant this year in El Segundo, CA called, “Workshop.”
Q & A with Chef Jackson
Q: Some people say that the Farm to Table movement left out oil. Do you agree with that? Why or why not?
A: It left out a lot of things and definitely left out oil. [People mistakenly believe that] oil is used essentially to prevent food from sticking to things when cooking or mixed into things. It’s not used as a base flavor but more as an accent. It’s just not thought of as a star. On the other hand, I use a ton of it. I used more than a gallon of olive oil for an event for 17 people.
Q: I understand that you believe that while most chefs think they know how to use olive oil, there are still a lot of opportunities in exploring ways of cooking with olive oil. Can you say more on this?
A: For me it’s about educating people on it. It’s kind of like wine in the ’70s with Chateau Montelena. Everyone said European wine was the best and that California wine was a joke. Then through a big press release, people educated themselves and found out it’s not based on location – it’s based on quality and can happen anywhere. Chefs think they know what’s the best olive oil because of what we’ve been told, but there needs to be education.
Oil is not a commodity; it’s an ingredient. If you focus on it, you would understand the difference between them. Nobody knows about oil. [Many people think] the cheaper, the better. It’s never been a focus among chefs. It’s never been a cool thing to talk about.
Salt was never cool. I am pretty sure it became that way (cool) because Thomas Keller had a fois gras course where he had seven different salts on it and all these chefs began talking about it. There was no focus on it until there was.
Fresh high-quality olive oil should taste like the fruit it came from.
Q: What’s been the biggest surprise since your discovery of quality fresh fall harvest olive oil?
A: Knowing that olives should not be picked ripe. They should be picked at the peak of freshness in November (during fall harvest)… knowing that most flavor compounds come out of the (olive oil milling) process from taking it straight off the trees and straight to the mill… volatile compounds get destroyed pretty much after picking. The lack of light and lack of oxygen are what keep olive oil fresh.
Q: How did you discover Corto?
A: I found Corto through a sales rep. I wasn’t actually interested in it because, like most chefs, I thought I knew about oil… like “the best oils come from Italy and Spain.” I ended up really liking it and using it right off the bat. Quality is quality. I like it because it’s a really great product.
Q: What are you looking for in (olive) oils?
A: Versatility and flavor. Does it taste good?
Q: We learned about how intentional you are with using our oils for different foods. Can you share with us how you use our three oils – TRULY®, 51-49®, La Padella® – in your cooking?
A: For TRULY®, I use it for raw preparations where I need to use oil – steak tartare, peaches, burrata – and also for pasta sauces that need to be finished with olive oil, meaning a component that needs to be put in at the end like cheese so it doesn’t get grainy and melted. I am also really liking experimenting with TRULY® in desserts instead of using butter.
When I want some light EVOO flavor and not as much punch in the face, I lean toward 51-49®.
With searing, it’s La Padella®. I also use La Padella® in my more nuanced dressings where I don’t want as much olive oil flavor.