Truckee chef, Cool native, says national honor creates buzz
Jacob Burton of Cool said it didn’t surprise him to learn that he did not come out on top of the voting for The People’s Best New Chef in the country, an award he was nominated for by Food & Wine.
The executive chef of Stella in Truckee, Burton said simply being considered for the award had been an honor, and it also generated a palpable buzz at his restaurant in the Cedar House Sport Hotel.
“Our guests that come in quite often and some new faces that we haven’t seen before, they’re really happy to see a restaurant in the Tahoe area get a nomination,” said the 29-year-old who has been with Stella since March 2010. “It has been great for our community as a whole, but we weren’t naïve about what we were going up against.”
Burton was one of 100 chefs nationwide – one of 10 from California – nominated for the award that was determined by online voting.
Brendan McGill of Bainbridge Island, Wash. won the overall award, and Matthew Accarrino of SPQR in San Francisco won the California vote.
Burton said the week leading up to the vote created an exciting atmosphere.
“Last week was fairly crazy,” he said. “We had a lot of new faces come in. We were selling out – and we normally sell out regardless – but we were selling out earlier than expected. And, really, a lot of it was people who were just energized by having a local restaurant get some actual recognition.”
Burton’s creations could be described as international cuisine, but he says it’s more of a California cuisine. His family grew herbs and vegetables in their garden during summers in Cool, giving him an early appreciation for the fresh, quality produce that comes from the region that he uses to this day.
Burton is a classically trained French chef who graduated from the California Culinary Academy and worked in fine dining restaurants in San Francisco and the North Tahoe region before joining Stella.
His dishes have Asian influences from his time working in the Bay Area, and he drew much inspiration from his great grandmother who worked in sugar cane fields on the Hawaiian islands. Burton admired her ability to be a simple, barebones home cook who could make a “fantastic” meal.
He hosts his own Stella Culinary School Podcast at stellaculinary.com, and he preaches to his viewers to “crave technique over recipes.”
“The Food Network and the Internet is just flooded with recipes, but very few recipes actually stop and take the time to explain what’s going on, what the technique is, what the science is behind the food,” Burton said.
It’s fitting that one of the dishes he takes the most pride in is his duck pate – one that he says is reliant on technical precision that he has developed to perfection over the years.
So where does he go to get a good bite?
“I’ve spent so much of my life focusing on high-end cuisine and creative food that when I go out to eat, I usually eat ethnic food,” Burton said. “A cheap, dirty hole-in-the-wall place with some grandma in the back making something really good.”
Jon Schultz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews