Big Grove Tavern, Chef Jessica Gorin, Mind of Our Chef

Mind of our Chef: Part 1

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.

Chef Jessica hard at work at the Urbana Farmer's Market. She spends every Summer Saturday morning picking up fresh produce for the week's menu!

Chef Jessica hard at work at the Urbana Farmer’s Market. She spends every Summer Saturday morning picking up fresh produce for the week’s menu!

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.

FullSizeRender_2Next time learn about how Jessica made the jump from California to good old Central Illinois!


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