This is the first installment of “Mind of our Chef” featuring the one and only Chef Jessica Gorin! Below you will learn a little bit about her past and her life before coming to the Midwest.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in California and grew up in the small agricultural college town of Davis. At the age of six, we moved to Houston, Texas, where I lived until I graduated high school and moved back to California.
What was it like or what were some highlights from your childhood?
In Davis, there was a tomato field right behind our house. Every summer, the air was filled with the smell of rotting tomatoes left in the field after the picker went through- I still can’t eat ketchup today without coating it in black pepper to cover the smell.
What did you eat as a child?
Until I was about 11 or 12, I had a lot of food allergies. I couldn’t eat any dairy or peaches or strawberries. We ended up eating a lot of Chinese and Japanese food because it was generally dairy-free. I’d try to cheat and make allergen-free versions of foods I couldn’t eat like ice cream and yogurt by swirling together jam and Cool Whip. It was pretty gross but I guess you could say that’s when I first started “cooking”. Fortunately, I grew out of all my food allergies.
Growing up in Houston, we did go out for dinner frequently. Houston had a very diverse restaurant scene and my parents were big believers in children ordering off the regular menu and behaving at the table so my brother and I went with them everywhere they wanted to eat. We went to all sorts of restaurants- BBQ, Tex-Mex, Creole, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, French, Latin American. I think it gave me an appreciation for lots of cuisines and for the artistry that can go into the presentation of food.
What were your dreams/ aspirations as a young adult?
I always enjoyed science and spent my summers working at the local science museum or as an intern in a genetics or psychology lab. I really wanted to be a marine biologist. Although I enjoyed cooking and would throw dinner parties for my friends, it didn’t even occur to me that working in restaurants could be a career.
How did you decided on school? What did you study?
I went to college at University of California, San Diego, which was right across the street from Scripps Institute of Oceanography. I majored in Ecology, Behavior & Evolution. After graduating, I moved back to Davis working on a PhD in Population Biology at UC Davis. I was interested in speciation and extinction and how they were affected by human impacts on landscapes- basically conservation biology with a lot of genetics and mathematical modelling thrown in.
Looking back now, did you have any idea you would end up where you are today?
Never. Looking back, I see all the pieces of being interested in food and cooking and local food systems but when I was young there was no Food Network and there wasn’t anything out there promoting the idea of chef as a career. When I left grad school to pursue cooking it was because I sat back and thought about what I really wanted to do every day and what I could do that would impact the lives of people around me, and for me, that answer was cooking.