When he needs to unwind, California chef Jeff Jackson trades his toque for a golfer's cap and hits the links. Luckily, La Jolla's top-rated municipal course (the venue for next year's U.S. Open) lies a chip shot away from the kitchen he directs inside The Lodge at Torrey Pines. Lining up a putt and preparing a fine meal might seem like vastly different skills, but Jeff doesn't think so. "Golf is like food," he says. "You have to take enough time to get it right."
This afternoon he demonstrates that philosophy with an "artisan-table lunch" for a group of friends. The meal highlights the best foods produced by local, small-scale suppliers, and encourages diners to savor each bite. A surefire hit, Luca's Eggplant Parmesan includes tomatoes slow-cooked for extra flavor. Braised Veal Cheeks are an intensely savory main dish. And for dessert there's a bourbon-infused cake that the chef calls "a chocolate bomb."
At today's lunch―as at the artisan-table dinners served each Thursday at The Lodge―a shared sense of discovery makes the experience convivial and relaxed. "The foodstuffs are the stars," Jeff says. "The idea is to treat each ingredient with respect and maintain its integrity." This generally means a "less is more" approach, with each dish limited to three or four distinct flavors.
Jeff is able to prepare this feast because farmers and high-quality suppliers in the area provide an amazing range of fresh foods. "They allow us to do menus based on what comes in the door fresh that day, and support from chefs allows them to thrive," Jeff explains. "We all benefit."
Last year, Jeff traveled to Italy as an American delegate to Terra Madre, the biennial meeting of the Slow Food movement. Founded in 1986, Slow Food has become a global force for traditional farming methods and biodiversity. "It's like the past, when farms used organic fertilizer and raised a variety of crops and livestock," Jeff says. Ironically, the mild weather that lets Southern California suppliers grow year-round increases pressures on the land. "One of my favorite farms is now a polo field surrounded by million-dollar houses," he laments. "If we don't support the farms, they won't survive."
Happily, even this stretch of coastal California has pockets of arable land. "Oh yeah," Jeff says, eyeing the course as he tees up for a long drive. "If they'd let us, we'd plant corn in the rough!"