I've had the pleasure of knowing Erin Jezl since high school. We met through mutual friends in the drama club. She was always cool and confident, full of witty zingers and I always felt lucky to have her as a friend. I think the reason why I love food so much is because of what Erin taught me about it, how it could be more than just a box of mac and cheese: it could be an experience. Although much time has passed, and perhaps we don't talk nearly as much as I'd like (my fault), I like how she's always been there in one way or another to remind me of my roots, be it over pulled pork sandwiches with delicious fries, sushi or even just an espresso at the train station.
Erin Jezl is probably the most unique and smartest woman you're likely to come across. From a very young age she always knew she wanted to be a chef. Her passion for food is transcendent. To see her lovingly plate a dish is to see an artist at work. Her talent has taken her far, but she isn't corrupted by it. Erin is in it for the food, in it for the sheer magic that comes when a person enjoys her cooking, and this is the gift that keeps on giving. Read my interview with her and be sure to eat a meal cooked by her soon. Interview after the jump.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a chef?
On a very personal level, I think it was my luck of finding an industry that combines two sides of myself that have never meshed well with each other- creativity and organizational precision. I get to express my passion for this craft by finding the best food sources to physically create a picture that popped into my head in the middle of the night, satisfaction of encouraging my staff’s desire to do the same and in the same day turn around to manage the finances that allow me to do those things. Also, to be quite honest, being directly responsible for “that look” people get on their faces when they taste something that hits home... unbeatable.
You’ve worked at some notable Chicago restaurants, what have those experiences taught you?
There are so many different types of methodologies, opinions and people. It’s always smart to watch every way something can be done. No matter how you may do something, there is always a different way it can be done. Whether it’s smarter, faster, slower, more painstaking, more efficient, etc. You will never know your best option if you don’t open your eyes and shut your mouth every once and a while.
What is the most beautiful thing about good food?
Good food is one of the most genuine things that exists. You can’t fake good food. You can’t fake how it tastes, how people react to it, the skill it took to create it or the person whose mind it came from. What could be more beautiful than that kind of purity?
To date, what has been the most memorable meal of your life and why?
This is a complicated question. I have so many fantastic memories of unforgettable meals. But to be fair, I will go with my first reaction. Not to be a deviant, but it wasn’t the meal so much as the reaction I had to a particular dish. Chef Amaury Rosado of 33 West in Aurora was not only the man who got me excited as a teenager to pursue a culinary career, but he is also the one who set a bowl of a pureed acorn squash soup garnished with pomegranate molasses and boars bacon in front of me and changed the way my taste buds were programmed in the matter of moments. I owe him and that soup a lot of credit.
If you were any kind of food, which food do you think you’d be?
Bones. Although I suppose it’s technically not a food, more of a flavor. Painfully overlooked, there are so many gorgeous things that can be done with animal bones. Besides the obvious allure of it’s slow-roasted marrow, they can create a richness and depth that is almost impossible to attain with any other ingredient. It’s not that I think I would ‘be’ bones if I were a food, but I would strive to attain the excellence of such an abundant, under utilized material.
What culinary trend are you most excited about this year and why?
Well, we are expecting a baby this week, so I’ve been a little out of the loop for the past couple of months on what’s in store for the culinary world this year! Because of this, I can only comment on one of the few food trends I’ve been able to keep up on, and that is our excitement in making our own baby food with some of Chicago’s freshest ingredients. We are so lucky to live in a city with such direct and fresh sources to local foods that are widely distributed to the abundance of farmers markets in the area.
You’ve been ambitious about your career as a chef for some time, what inspired this dream?
I was nervous very early on as a child as to what my career would be. Both of my parents work with computers; they are extremely intelligent people and hold important positions within their companies. Very often, a child grows up doing what they know. God knows I know computers but it was the last thing I wanted to dedicate my life to and that made me very anxious. When I started reading recipes with the excitement that a kid would read comic books, I started to wonder if I could always feel that excitement and trick someone into paying me for it. Turns out that most careers that allow you to do that are illegal… But being a chef is not only legal, it allows me to enjoy my job as much as my days off!
Describe your perfect meal to our readers.
My fiancé and I had dinner reservations on vacation a few weeks ago. We showed up early, so to pass the time we decided to stop by a grocery store to pick up snacks for the hotel later that night (who pays $5 for M&Ms at a mini bar?). Then we walked by this roasted chicken. Then the baguettes. Simultaneously we looked at each other and were thinking the same thing. Suddenly we were running around this grocery store in Arizona at 9 o’clock at night grabbing roast chicken, a baguette, cheeses, Spanish chorizo, cured sausage, green apples, cherries, hummus, olives, etc. I canceled our dinner reservations that night, we put a towel down on the giant bed and had a king’s picnic. THAT is a perfect meal.
What is your favorite comfort food and why?
Ice cream. It’s not creative, it’s not fancy, it just happens to be delicious and makes me very happy.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I hope to be able to mesh my growing family and career to balance my two passions without having to sacrifice my sanity! It’s a lofty goal, but I’m hoping the personal chef work I have been doing will allow us to run future businesses as close to home as possible. Simply, I want to accomplish balance in the future.
Erin Jezl is currently a personal chef in the city of Chicago. She started her career with an Associates in Cooking and Hospitality from Le Cordon Bleu at the age of 18. She continued to gain pastry and kitchen experience at Black Dog Gelato and the former restaurant Duchamp during and after college, before moving on to Butcher & the Burger as their Chef de Cuisine. At 22 years old, she became the Executive Chef of the Glunz Tavern, recently parting ways with the restaurant due to birth of her first child. The development of her personal chef business has been the primary focus for her future.
Filed under: Interviews