Katherine Sacks: What made you interested in becoming a professional chef?
Jacob Des Voignes: I've always been around food. I grew up around Sacramento and there is lots of agriculture all around. Whenever there was a birthday or holiday we got together at our house and made large meals. I always helped out in kitchen. I randomly got a job in a kitchen at 19; it sounded fun. I cooked garde mange station, so oysters and salads. The chef had worked in Philly at Le Bec Fin. He gave one of the cooks as a birthday present White Heat. It was the first time I had seen food in that way and it was pretty mind blowing. I kept cooking and moved to Southern California. I had never been to the East Coast, so I went to stage at Daniel and after that moved and worked for Tom [Collicchio] at Craft. I moved back here and have been in San Francisco for almost 10 years now. A lot of it for me is that connection between the food to the plate and the land and how it got to be there. I love gardening; we have a small farm in the Central Valley. I like the process of growing food and transplanting it onto plate.
KS: How would you describe your culinary style?
JDV: It’s very seasonal, being that so much of how we procure food is directly through farmers. The only thing we get from a distributor ends up being dairy; all the vegetables, fruit, produce is purchased by myself or Yaron [Milgrom], or Andy, the sous chef. We go five days a week to a rotation of farmers markers and also work with local farms. The menu’s constantly in flux; we reprint it every day. So it’s based on what’s available at the market.
KS: What advice would you give young cooks just starting out?
JDV: Cook what you want to cook and do what things you are passionate about, not the thing that is exciting in the media right now. Cook because you want to cook not because you want to be on TV. Get to know people producing food; that’s very important, to have a line of communication that a lot of people don't. You can get beautiful product in a days notice, but the people behind it are important. Get to know them and their stories.
KS: Tell me about your farm.
JDV: It’s a small farm in Lodi in the central valley. We’ve been doing it for three years now. We have a small orchard of stone fruit trees and citrus and a lot of tomatoes, squash, and peppers. Things that thrive and don’t need that much attention. We have a lot of long term plantings, blackberries, raspberries. We are using all that product here. It’s more then we can transport in our car, so we are hoping to get a truck. We can't afford to hire someone to manage it full time, so we manage it with Shuna’s parents and put in an irrigation system. We used to spend every weekend there, but now it’s probably twice month. We also have about 28 chickens. They are spoiled rotten because they eat any fallen fruit. The yolks are the deepest orange you can imagine.
KS: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
JDV: I've done a lot of difficult things. Probably learning to trust other people; it’s important to let people make mistakes and learn but you are operating a restaurant where you want everything to be the best it can be. When you are too overbearing it can stifle staff. Letting mistakes happen.
KS: Where will we find you in 5 years?
JDV: I’ll still be cooking. We are opening a market, construction is starting next week. It will be a full service grocery store with same ethos we bring to restaurant. In the neighborhood there aren't grocery stores, just corner markets. The closest one is BiRite. It will be whole food, meat, fish, cheese; all product that isn’t single ingredient we'll make in house.