The latest in the Boulder Chef Series features an energetic, passionate woman you’ll enjoy getting to know through this recent interview. Enjoy! Then go try her cooking.
Chef & Co-Owner: Jessica Emich, Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place
EDB: What was your favorite food as a kid?
I am a Jersey Italian girl at heart. It was all about pasta and Dad’s killer sauce!
EDB: What was the first meal you made that you were proud of?
I pretty much nailed rice pudding at the age of six.
EDB: Restaurant life before Boulder?
I worked at a few restaurants in San Francisco while I was in culinary school. The crazy thing is that I opened my first restaurant when I was 24! Although I attended the California Culinary Academy and learned a lot there, I consider myself self-taught. It wasn’t easy. It took me a long time to really consider myself a chef, but now I am exactly where I need to be.
EDB: What inspired you to become a chef?
I come from a big family of food lovers. I loved how food brought us all together. I wanted to have the skills to create that experience.
EDB: Who was your most important mentor, and why?
I still can’t believe my grandmother raised 12 kids, had her own thriving business and always managed to have wonderful food ready for everyone! As a mother, chef and business owner, I think of my grandmother to remind myself that I can handle it!
EDB: Do you follow chefs all over the world and if so, what media do you use most to discover what’s they’re doing?
I do to a degree. There is a lot of politics in magazines and in most of literature out there. I really like to research chefs online by looking up different kinds of cuisine, whether its culturing food or using local ingredients to do cool, unique stuff.
EDB: What other creative talents do you spend free time doing?
I have my masters in nutrition and I love to geek out on how food translates in the body. It fascinates me to no end. My mission is to take care of people through my food. Dancing and yoga keep me sane, for the most part. And believe it or not, I do a lot of cooking and experimenting. I have an insatiable appetite for creating.
EDB: What two adjectives describe your cuisine?
EDB: What is your favorite ingredient?
Oh goodness, just one? I always get excited about eating lamb. There are times I feed it to my family for breakfast.
EDB: Now or in the past, have you been well known for a ‘signature’ dish?
Sometimes I get annoyed with what becomes signature and then I feel a little stuck with it. I am always changing and recreating and revamping.
EDB: What are three local ingredients (produce, meat, flour, bread, etc.) that you source religiously?
Local lamb (heavenly). Local tomatoes (those sent from miles and miles away are usually under-ripe impersonators). Local micro greens (cutting living sprouts right from the dirt soon before serving to customers aids in digestion and of course, enhances flavor).
EDB: What is one really exotic ingredient that’s hard to procure but when you get it, you can’t wait to try it out in new recipes?
I enjoy mushroom picking when the season is right. When I find a lot of porcinis, I am very excited! These can be a fortune to buy.
EDB: What are two “house made” items you create in your kitchen that many restaurants don’t?
We make our own gluten-free breads. We make different kinds of coconut ice cream. And we are working on soy-free miso! That one takes quite a while to ferment and do its thing.
EDB: In preparing menus for the Boulder palate, do you feel completely free with your creative expression? Where do you have to rein it in, if at all? i.e. to accommodate dietary fussiness of many Boulder locals?
I really set myself up for Boulder fussiness. We have a gluten-free kitchen so we draw many people that are dedicated to their health and that have a variety of food sensitivities. But we truly embrace it. Our mission is creating food that is good for the body, meets individual needs, and is a pleasure to eat.
EDB: Have you won any local or national awards for your Boulder restaurant(s)?
We have had lots of local and national press and anticipate much more to come!
EDB: What music do you like to hear when you cook?
I enjoy cooking to music. Some things I enjoy are matisyahu, Trevor Hall or some Zap Mama.
EDB: What kitchen utensil is most important to you?
I love my beurre mixer and a sharp filet knife.
EDB: What do you most value in a sous-chef?
I love when we compliment each other in our skills. I enjoy when there is comfort level where we can learn from each other without ego in the way. Currently my sous-chef loves baking and pastry much more than I do. I say he is the sweet to my savory and this moves us a long nicely.
EDB: What is your favorite hangover meal?
I kind of need to hit the entire flavor palette. I like over easy eggs with hot sauce, thick crispy bacon, greens with some sort of acidity and a side of pancakes with lots of butter and pure maple syrup.
EDB: What is your favorite midnight snack?
Maybe some bread and cheese with some smoked meat or fish. I am usually trying to avoid heating up a sauté pan or oven at this time.
EDB: What is your favorite guilty pleasure treat?
I have many! Pizza, pasta, wine, meat and a decadent dessert. All in one sitting.
EDB: What most satisfies your sweet tooth?
Really good gooey chocolate.
EDB: For whom do you most like to cook?
My whole family. Friends. And people that appreciate my cooking for them.
EDB: What one food would you take with you on a desert island?
If I could only take one food item, it would be something cultured like kimchi. I crave the spicy, sour thing, and it would keep me healthy and would probably (finish?)
EDB: What would you eat at your last meal, if you could plan such a thing? My dad’s (Italian) sauce.
EDB: If you could have one other career, what would it be?
I would love to be the lead singer in a band. If only my voice were a bit better.
EDB: What food trend would you most like to erase from the annals of history?
The nonfat diet. Remember everyone eating nonfat cheese, nonfat yogurt? I mean seriously, why bother?
EDB: What was the most memorable food trend in Boulder in 2012, and what do you predict will stay or become prominent in 2013?
I love that more and more people are eating local foods. This is how we at Shine support the outrageously difficult work of local farmers. Not to mention the food is much better and better for you!
EDB: How does your restaurant partner with or in some way give back to the Boulder community?
We have a space in the restaurant dedicated to events. We do lots of fundraisers and help raise awareness for local needs. We also donate a portion of sales to these fundraising events on many occasions. We also spend most of our money with local farms and local business. We like to keep the money circulating here in our community.
EDB: What do you most want Boulder area customers to know about your restaurant and/or your food?
Because I have my master’s degree in Nutrition, and I am a chef, there is a lot that goes into our food that makes it better for you. In addition to being mostly organic, we soak all of our nuts and grains for easier digestion. We culture foods and sprout seeds. We have a non-GMO kitchen. We are dedicated to creating food that tastes really great, and that is also deeply nourishing. We really do care about our guests. I couldn’t be in this business if it were any other way.
Can you let us in on your fave spots in Boulder to go for the following items?
- A late-night/after work meal: Amu
- A great cup of coffee: Ozo
- Groceries: Alfalfa’s
- Kitchen equipment: Tundra
- Ice cream: Glacier’s Butter Pecan
- Chocolate: Piece Love and Chocolate
- Your favorite local beer: Shine’s Pohoda Pilz
- Wine and spirits for your home: Liquor Mart