Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Community Chef Jessica Koslow of Sqirl

by Antoinette Bruno
May 2014

Antoinette Bruno: How did you get you start cooking?
Jessica Koslow: I started cooking to be closer to my mom. I was a single child from a single parent, and that was the time we had together at night, when she came home from work. I tried to make things and have things ready for her to eat. 

AB: Did you go to culinary school? 
JK: I didn't go to culinary school. I went to college and graduate school, moved to Atlanta in 2005 and ate a meal at Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, and it blew my mind. I was in a transition period, I'd always wanted to cook and that experience ... I went home and emailed [Anne Quatrano], begged her to hire me—all of those things you do when you're hungry and you put yourself out there when it's what you really want to be doing. Then she called me the next day, laughed at me, and told me to come in for an interview.

I learned soul at Bacchanalia and how to have integrity with your ingredients. I worked there for a year before I moved to New York because I wanted to make [my degree] work. I became a producer for Fox, then moved out here to L.A., and all I wanted was to be cooking. I started baking bread here at night at the Village Bakery and worked in the office during the day. I realized I couldn't let that continue because I was tired and not sleeping. In 2010, they closed the office and I decided to start cooking. I moved to Australia for a year and worked at a bakery in Melbourne. I’d come from a very rigorous academic family, and I wasn't making ends meet. I thought maybe this isn't what I should be doing. I wanted to remove myself from the industry and get back into food. I'm from Long Beach so my Mom is very close. 

AB: Who's your mentor?
JK: Anne Quatrano is my mentor, her soul, her products. 

AB: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
Because [the community] is growing, part of it is we're all connecting to each other and figuring out who's making changes and shifts in the community. Being involved with the garden school, Alice Waters’ group, when she has something here, being present when being asked to be part of things for L.A. Weekly; being present at events and at the Garden School. I'm a master food preserver, so I give classes on food preservation.

I'm part of the East Hollywood community. I'm neighborhood oriented. I'm very aware that L.A. is not only a food desert, but a challenging food desert. My rent is reasonable, and I'm able to pump my money into the products. Coming from the South, knowing things are preserved in a certain way, knowing how I want to eat by supporting local agriculture. I find people who care about the work they're doing and support them. It's easy to find a cheap taco here, but that's not what I want. I really seek out farmers and growers that want a platform for their product.

AB: What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
JK: The hardest decision was making the decision that this was my path. Now everything is much easier and clearer. I have the clarity that this is what I want to do. Making the choice of having the life of a chef, being here 24/7, giving 110 percent.

AB: What's your five-year plan?
JK: Creating a wholesale company, where I’m doing my preserves for restaurants, farmers markets, and retail. I want to be able to offer a high-end food service to farmers that have produce that they can't do anything with. I do stuff for Suzanne Goin—she wants it online. I already have my products in her LAX and other store. I want to do private label.