Master Chef

Executive Chef Jeff Jackson helms the kitchens at The Lodge
at Torrey Pines

By Wendy Lemlin

When local chefs mention someone who has greatly influenced them professionally, one name pops up consistently. The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ Executive Chef Jeff Jackson is highly respected by his peers, by those he has trained and by diners who have enjoyed his culinary creations. A graduate of the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and classically French-trained, Jackson’s 30-plus-year career has included winning the venerated USA Bocuse d’Or Culinary Gold Cup competition and representing the United States in the world competition in Lyon, France, an honor he considers one of his proudest achievements. With Jackson at its helm, A.R. Valentien, The Lodge’s signature restaurant, has been named one of the top ten farm-to-table restaurants in the nation.


When did you decide to become a chef? When I was 16 years old. I came from a family of engineers, but I was too hyperactive to even consider a job where I’d be chained to a desk all day. I started working in restaurants when I was 13 and loved the action all around me. When it was time for college, I chose culinary school. Luckily, my parents were very supportive.

Who are your greatest culinary influences? My two mentors were the legendary Jean LaFont, under whom I trained, and Jean Banchet with whom I worked at his celebrated Le Francais outside of Chicago.

How has your culinary style evolved since you first started? Over the years, I continue to put an emphasis on seasonally available ingredients as well as focus more on technique.

What is the most significant culinary trend you’ve seen in recent years? The recognition of the importance of using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

Are there any culinary trends you’re not a fan of? Fusion, because it fails so many times. Too often, disparate components are put together that sound great written on a menu, but don’t actually taste very good.

Any observations on the local culinary scene? I’ve been noticing a greater focus on embracing traditions in all types of cuisine.

What are some must-haves in your kitchen? Quality knives are absolute musts!

What’s the best meal you ever had? After I finished culinary school, I had an incredible meal at Lutèce in New York. What made it so memorable wasn’t so much the food, which was fantastic, of course, but that the great chef Andre Soltner came out to take our order. It was so inspiring to see the humbleness of this master, and it opened my eyes to what a truly great chef should be.

What’s your advice for aspiring chefs? Work hard! And read! Read cookbooks and try out recipes. Read books about food and the greats in our industry who have come before. Be sure it is your passion—not just a job.