For our monthly series “Meet The Kitchen Family,” we sat down with Brent Jackson from The Kitchen Fort Collins to get to know him a bit better. Here’s what he had to say:
Where are you from?
Originally, I am from a small town in Nebraska called Sidney. I grew up there, and then I made my way to Oregon to go to theater school. I was in Ashland, which is a great little town. I made it halfway through theater school and ended up moving back to Nebraska. That’s where my culinary life started, I guess.
Tell us more about this start?
I got a serving job at a Perkins. I worked my way up to manager; my goal was to run my own Perkins. They told me that if I wanted to keep going, I needed to get some experience in the back of house. I spent one day back there, it was unlike anything else. I loved the adrenaline rush, and I realized that’s where I belonged. So I moved to L.A. to go to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu.
And then what happened?
While I was in school, me and a buddy started a little food vendor business selling pulled pork sandwiches at festivals and fairs. Our first event was the Cherry Blossom Festival in Pasadena. We had no idea what we were doing. We couldn’t get our food hot. We couldn’t serve it right. We just packed up our stuff with our tail between our legs and headed home. That crash and burn helped us realize what we needed to do. Our next big event was Coachella, one of the country’s largest music festivals at one hundred thousand people each day. We bought fifteen hundred pounds of pork butt, and cooked it in my buddy’s house over the course of three or four weeks. We sat in his garage, drinking beer and pulling pork. Health code savvy? Maybe not. We showed up to Coachella, and served them for ten bucks a piece. In that one weekend, we made a hundred grand, it was insane.
So, from L.A. to Denver?
My business partner had a pretty massive drug problem, and I decided that wasn’t the scene I wanted to be in. I met my wife Shannyn, and we headed out to Denver. We lived there for six years. I worked at a Hyatt in Downtown Denver. I was on the opening team at Linger and I worked at Root Down for a while. Yeah, a bunch of cool places.
How did you find your way up to Ft. Collins?
I actually took a hiatus from the restaurant industry for a little while. I was burnt out in the kitchen, pulling hundred hour weeks for a long period of time. I was over it. So, I went to school at CSU and started working towards a horticulture degree.
From serious restaurant hiatus to Sous Chef?
My family and I went to New York for ten days. It was the first time any of us had been there. We pretty much just ate around New York. There was this one meal at a restaurant called Dovetail; the food was just amazing. There was a kale terrine, it was a tiny little part of a plate, It was just kale wrapped in a little bit of phyllo dough, with a velouté holding it together. It was so simple, but so delicious. I left there saying, “What am I doing? I miss the kitchen. I am a kitchen guy, and I’m really good. I’m just kind of pretending that I don’t belong there when I do.”
Describe The Kitchen Fort Collins, in comparison to other Kitchen restaurants?
You see The Kitchen staples on every menu. The Bolognese, for example, is everywhere and it’s delicious. Where I think we really set ourselves apart, and where Ft. Collins is truly loving us, is with our ‘Taste of The Kitchen.’ I’ve gotten my guys completely on board. We plan the menu together and we change it almost daily. Over the summer, up until this hard freeze that just happened, we had been getting almost all of our produce from right here in Ft. Collins. It’s a testament to Chef Joel and the relationships he’s set up with local farmers.
Most influential dining experience?
While I was in L.A., I suggested to Shannyn that we get reservations at The French Laundry and set our wedding date accordingly. Two months later, we walked in. The food and wine came in a constant musical flow, course after course after course, two bites at a time. At one point my wife got up and they folded her napkin, that was mind blowing. I had never seen a table crumbed, whether the table needed it or not. Halfway through the meal, Chef de Cuisine, Cory Lee came up to our table, and said he heard I was a chef. He asked if I’d like to see the kitchen. It was silent, spotless and calm. Four hours later, and nearly fifty courses in, the meal was drawing to a close. Our server handed me a bag, a gift from my wife. It was The French Laundry cookbook, signed by Chef Thomas Keller, with the inscription, “It’s all about finesse.” We walked out of the building, in an ecstatic food coma with those four words ringing though my head. I left The French Laundry with a new appreciation for dining. I have made it a point in my career to ensure those tiny details are paid attention to.