By Linda Mensinga
The former Top Chef competitor Chris Jacobsen now runs the kitchen for The Yard, a popular gastro-pub in Santa Monica, where he makes bar food that is several notches above the usual sliders and nachos. “It opened a million doors,” says Chef CJ about his appearance on Top Chef Season 3, “I get noticed every day.” Currently, Chef CJ is enjoying life as a regular chef: behind the burners every night, free from judges and competitors. With a menu that contains a changing array of interesting choices – braised crispy beef cheek with celery root corn puree, spicy chili crusted shrimp, and a chocolate porter cake with dark chocolate pudding – all in addition to traditional bar favorites – sliders, fish tacos, and pulled pork sandwiches – Chef CJ displays his limitless creativity in the kitchen.
Although Chef CJ did not come away as the champion of Top Chef, he is a winner in the public’s eye. The 6’8″ former volleyball player graduated from Pepperdine College and played professionally around Europe. After being cut at try-outs for the Olympic Volleyball team, Chef CJ realized he had an interest in the culinary arts. After graduating culinary school, he worked in several restaurants including Axe, Campanile, and Wolfgang Puck Catering; later, he went on to do his own catering and some personal cheffing for columnist/blogger Arianne Huffington and others.
When Chef CJ responded to the open casting call for Top Chef, he was surprised that no actual cooking was required for the audition; they simply interviewed him and checked his references. While on the show, Chef CJ won the elimination challenge to create a pre-packaged frozen dinner with his partner, Tre Wilcox, with a black truffle and Parmesan linguini, kale, tomato confit, and grilled chicken. Sadly, only 5 episodes later, CJ was eliminated from the show, taking with him the experience of a lifetime.
Since then, Chef CJ has been asked to appear on a number of Top Chef specials, such as the Holiday Episode, and to assist Chef Michael Chiarello on Top Chef Masters. You can also find him on Videojug.com doing cooking demos of American comfort favorites such as macaroni salad, tuna casserole, and beef stew with an approachable cooking style that is perfect for novice chefs. Practiced cooks will also appreciate his demos for gourmet twists he gives to the recipes, such as homemade garlic aioli for egg salad or chopped parsley with lemon, olive oil, and salt to top off his beef stew.
Chef CJ’s main focus is The Yard, where his goal is to keep the menu seasonal and sustainable. A few popular weekly features are Big Cheese with Fried Cheese Curds; bacon cream fraiche with apple tomatillo sauce; fried pig ear; bacon, blue cheese ,and dates; and caramelized popcorn bread pudding. These fantastically creative dishes made with fresh produce he hand-picks weekly from the local farmer’s market and seafood vendors will guarantee you a dining experience to remember.
The Yard – 119 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401 – (310)395-6037 – www.theyardsm.com
To view a few recipes from Chef CJ, please click here