Today on “Mind of Our Chef” we dive into how Jessica landed in this Bubbly City and how the concept of Big Grove Tavern came about.
How did you end up in the CU?
My husband Jonathan and I moved to CU at the end of 2011 when he accepted an assistant professor position in the Department of Geography at UIUC. We met in graduate school at UC Davis and he followed me as I worked around Napa and San Francisco. When he got this opportunity, it was time for me to follow him.
How did BGT come about?
The university put me in touch with local restaurateurs. I met with a number of people who were interested in investing in or opening a restaurant and just struck a rapport with the eventual owners of BGT. After keeping in touch over the year before we moved to town, the investors and I settled on the idea of doing a farm to table restaurant that would utilize my West Coast sensibility in an accessible Midwestern context and focus on highlighting products from local farms.
Was Farm to Table always the way you saw yourself leaning?
Once I started cooking, seasonality was always very important to me. Davis was similar to Champaign-Urbana- a college town in an agricultural area with a very strong farmer’s market. I was always very aware of what produce was available and wanted to use what was at its peak. As I continued to cook, I learned that restaurants could work directly with farmers and saw some of the benefits which that relationship produced- higher quality fresh ingredients, unique ingredients grown or raised specifically for the restaurant and a mutual sense of pride from the farmer and the chef for their partnership. I think farm to table was always a pretty clear path for me.
What do you like most about being in Champaign?
We’ve met a lot of really great people since moving here and developed some good friendships.
What is your favorite thing to do around town in your free time?
We’re pretty chill in my house. On my days off, we hang out with friends, watch movies and play card games. When the weather’s nice, it’s fun to walk around the gardens at the Arboretum or head out to Meadowbrook. And of course, it’s always good to have someone else cook for me- we spend a lot of time at Sakanaya!
Stay tuned after the holidays for the 3rd installment of “Mind of our Chef” with Chef Jessica to learn about her dreams for the future and predictions for the dining scene in the CU over the next few years.