Canada's Chefs: John-David Jacobsen, Borealis Grille and Pub, Kitchener ON

by Krlmagi

Chef John-David Jacobsen emphasizes seasonal, local and sustainable ingredients in his cooking at Borealis Grille and Pub in Kitchener ON.

The culinary path called to Chef John-David Jacobsen after color blindness prevented him from becoming a printer. He’d always been excited about creating food and on the advice of a friend who happened to be an instructor at George Brown College, he decided to pursue cooking as a career. Jacobsen hasn’t looked back since that point.

Chef John-David Jacobsen
Chef John-David Jacobsen

Chefs Michael Bonacini and Martin Kouprie were major influences on Jacobsen as a chef. He worked under both of them at Jump Café, Auberge Du Pommier and Pangaea over the course of seven years. Jacobsen was influenced by their cooking and the overall experience of working with them.

Jacobsen is also influenced by his own personal philosophy. He explains, “I take ten percent from everyone in life. It could be ten percent from my grandmother’s recipes or ten percent from how a staff member at work organizes their station or the ten percent on how someone would do a spreadsheet. I don’t take for granted any one of their backgrounds. You’re here now so what can you give me? It makes me better on a daily basis to think that everyone in the world can teach me something.”

Everything that Jacobsen puts on the menu is sustainable and much of it is locally sourced. For example, the Y-U Ranch beef that they source is grass fed and raised without antibiotics or hormones. Jacobsen favours this approach because it allows cattle to be raised naturally. The emphasis on sustainability extends beyond the ingredients themselves to the community as a whole.  The chef says, “When I’m purchasing from a local farmer, it gives back to the community because we’re using their food to feed the local community and supporting them.”

Much of Jacobsen’s menu creation is inspired by the seasonal change in local ingredients. For example, he’ll make one menu change between summer and fall and another in mid-November when the fall harvest comes to an end. Menu changes can also allow Jacobsen to take some popular dishes off of the menu. He adds, “We look at something that’s a superstar on the menu and we take it away. We let our customers get the fever for it again.”

Pan seared albacore tuna, sweet potatoes & sweet peppers, caramel cilantro butter sauce, Niagara apricot-ginger chutney
Pan seared albacore tuna, sweet potatoes & sweet peppers, caramel cilantro butter sauce, Niagara apricot-ginger chutney

The nature of his customer base and what’s selling also dictates Jacobsen’s menu planning. Borealis is a gastropub so he often puts twists on classic dishes by adding a special ingredient like elk.

Getting to know the people behind his ingredients is an important part of Jacobsen’s approach to sourcing products. Jacobsen uses the example of his relationship with one of his fish suppliers to illustrate this point. All of the fish that the chef uses has to be OceanWise certified, so he works with Organic Oceans in B.C. to source this fish.

Last year he went out fishing on Organic Oceans’ ship and learned about how they sustainably catch sockeye salmon with barbless hooks and single lines. He also goes to many farms to see how they raise their animals and to learn from the farmers.

Gravlox sockeye salmon, baby arugula salad, quick pickled cucumbers, yellow pepper ginger oil
Gravlox sockeye salmon, baby arugula salad, quick pickled cucumbers, yellow pepper ginger oil

Jacobsen continues, “That way I can tell my customers a story about every plate that goes out. I can tell them about the ingredients, where I got them from, the reasoning behind the plate and why I developed it that way.”

Telling the truth and being honest are the traits that Jacobsen focuses on as a chef and as a person. If a cook honestly has a better way to make a recipe, Jacobsen encourages them to come forward and show him what they’re doing, so that he can learn from what they’ve done. He wants to be open minded and honest to all of the capabilities and tools around him as a chef.

When it comes to the people in his kitchen, Jacobsen is looking for people with the right attitude and personality. He explains, “I could bring in a haughty chef who thinks he or she knows it all and is pretty good but if they disrupt the other team members, I don’t want that. I want someone who’s honest, smart, has a great personality and a get along attitude. The hard work isn’t so hard when you’re a team.”

The strong team that Jacobsen has built at Borealis is what inspires him in his career.  He concludes, “I can inspire myself in any way easily by expanding my own horizons but if I don’t take the group with me, I’m only inspiring myself.”

This interview with John-David Jacobsen was conducted on September 2, 2015 via telephone and recorded.

Updated: 09/04/2015, Krlmagi
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