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January 09, 2017

Chef Jessica Yarr Chats Food, Redwoods, and Motherhood

Photo by Garrick Ramirez

With a welcoming vibe, stylish space, and sincere commitment to local ingredients, Assembly represents the best of our contemporary food scene. So when they recently sought out a new chef, they found a perfect match in Jessica Yarr. The 32-year-old Santa Cruz native embodies the farm-to-table credo, and has delighted diners at noteworthy restaurants around town. We recently caught up with Jessica to ask what local spots she recommends to visitors, how she manages being a working parent to three young children, and what fun things she has planned for Assembly.

You’ve lived in the area your entire life. What Santa Cruz County spots do you recommend to visiting friends and family?

Visit the redwoods! Most people think about beaches, but I think the redwoods are truly special and unique to this area. I'd say Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a must-see spot as well as Big Basin. If you go to Henry Cowell, stop by the Bigfoot Discovery Museum right off Highway 9 in Felton. My parents own it, and good conversation is sure to be had!

Santa Cruz has a vibrant food scene that has obviously kept you busy and engaged. What are some things you appreciate most?

The food scene in Santa Cruz is vibrant and what I appreciate most is the abundance of quality produce and artisan food crafters here. There are so many wonderful local farms as well as small-scale gardeners that are always willing to share their bounty. During the height of the season, there is a farmers’ market on almost every day of the week. I grew up eating food from our garden, and my chores included digging potatoes or picking lettuce and tomatoes for our salad. I didn’t appreciate it as a child, but looking back, I realize how lucky I was to eat and live that way. I think it’s what shaped who I would become as a farm-to-table chef.

“Executive Chef” and “Parent of Three Young Children” aren’t two things you see very often in the same sentence. Care to share what mornings are like at your house?

Being a chef and a mother of three isn’t easy. It takes a lot of support from friends and family. I make sure to spend quality time with each one of my children even if it’s just 15 minutes in the morning before school. We play, we sing, and we laugh. I try to create as many memories and special moments as I can.

We’re excited about Assembly’s upcoming full bar and cocktail program. What other new things can diners expect at Assembly in the upcoming year?

Diners can look forward to more thoughtful vegetarian options and a focus on classic seasonal dishes with modern twists. One dish that I'm pretty excited about is our braised pork shank. It's a fennel-and-orange-braised pork osso bucco with castelvetrano olives and a spiced chickpea mash. It's been a hit and just looks so lovely on the plate.

I'm also planning to do a vegetarian smoked beet Reuben. The beets are cooked in a spiced balsamic marinade and lightly smoked. It tastes similar to pastrami, and it’s served with the traditional Reuben accompaniments of Russian dressing, kraut, and Swiss cheese on house-made rye bread.

Assembly is co-owned by Kendra Baker, a celebrated pastry chef who blessed Santa Cruz with the Penny Ice Creamery. As a chef that excelled in pastry, what’s it like to work alongside her?

I Iove working with Kendra. It’s a real honor for me since I’ve followed her career and studied her menus for years. She inspires me to push myself to a new level. I hope to continue to collaborate with her and excite the palates of both Santa Cruzians and visitors!






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