There is much to be learned about second chances when it comes to the career of Executive Chef Dave Jones, and most of these lessons deal with his exceptional talent coupled with his extreme perseverance. He is now the Executive Chef at the one-of-a-kind restaurant Log Haven, found about twenty minutes outside of Salt Lake City in Millcreek Canyon. It is a repurposed large, elegant log cabin, on forty acres of land in the Wasatch National Forest, surrounded by rushing waterfalls and native trees. In 1920, Salt Lake steel baron L.F. Rains built it as an anniversary gift for his wife. Logs from Oregon were shipped via San Francisco and hauled four miles up Millcreek Canyon by horse-drawn wagon. Now, not only is it a fine dining restaurant, but it is also an events area and has been a magnet for weddings since its inception over 80 years ago.
Dave is a native Californian, whose DNA was primed for cuisine creation. When young, he would watch Julia Child and Graham Kerr with his mother. His grandmother was one of the first graduates of the Boston School of Cooking, and he still remembers her old Wedgwood stove in her kitchen, where she and his mother first stirred his interest in food preparation. He began cooking at the young age of seven.
Accolades for Dave's cuisine at Log Haven include Salt Lake’s Best American Cuisine — Fine Dining, Best Restaurant, Best Canyon Restaurant, and Best Romantic Ambience. Chef Dave's cuisine has been featured in Food Arts, Bon Appétit, Sunset, Via, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Cowboys & Indians, USA Today, Salt Lake Magazine and Utah Homes & Gardens. He has even been a guest chef at the James Beard House.
I recently interviewed him at both his home office in Sandy, Utah and at Log Haven Restaurant in Millcreek Canyon.
Susan Kime: You said you have been in the kitchen on and off almost all your life. Where were you formally educated?
Dave Jones: I graduated from the California Culinary Academy. As part of our training, I was privileged to be able to work with Wolfgang Puck, Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton, who were the original founders of Spago. I also traveled with and learned from Jean Louis Palladin, a great chef who was one of the very first to understand the necessity for food authenticity, and the need of great farm-to-table cuisine. He was one of the first to liberate French cuisine from the heavy to the extremely flavorful.
SK: Where did you go after you graduated? Right into Executive Chefdom?
DJ: Well, I applied for an Executive Chef position at The Hollins House at the Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, California. Someone else got the job, but I went there and worked as a Sous Chef. That was fine, as I learned so much and I was allowed a great deal of creative freedom. Well, it turned out the Executive Chef didn't work out, and because of the work I had done, I got the Executive Chef position. A great second chance! I stayed there for 12 years.
SK: When did you come to Log Haven? What attracted you to this unique restaurant in the woods?
DJ: I am an outdoors person, always have been, and came to Log Haven in the mid 1980s. I started to work for them in the mid 1990s — and appreciated that I could do the work I did. But then, one day, I realized I was losing my edge. I felt as if I was burning out — a bad thing for a chef to feel. I think this happens to all creative people, really, and I just had to get away from the burners and from the kitchen for awhile. And I was grateful to the owner of Log Haven, Margo Provost, for allowing me to take this time off.
SK: What did you do when you left your discipline?
DJ: I worked in the food business, and I also did some accounting. And I again took up foraging, something I had done in California. Foraging for me is a great healthful activity, because I am out in nature and out looking for food that I can prepare naturally. I forage for Porcini Mushrooms now. Thankfully, Utah is still one of the best places for foraging. It has become a dangerous activity in some parts of Idaho and Oregon, which is really too bad.
SK: You did leave your profession for awhile. What did it take for you to return?
DJ: I had to leave it in order to return to it with an even greater degree of love and dedication. I take my work very seriously, but I also know that great cuisine is made up of piecework. I collect old cookbooks and [they] have additions and subtractions all over them. I came to think the templates for great food are always changing. And, I realize also that great food itself does not need over-dramatization — great cuisine allows the art of the flavor and the soul of the food to merge. You don't need a lot else.
I returned to Log Haven in 2008, with a new outlook, and again I had a second chance. I realize my style is so eclectic — I am a farm-to-table disciple, and I also love Pacific Rim cooking. So I work at combining the two and more. But, I also know that after awhile you have to put techniques aside and let your own personality, your own taste preferences and combinations, define the art of the cuisine.
SK: What is your favorite kitchen instrument?
DJ: Without question, it is the Henckels Miyabi knife. It has the sharpest blade and yet it is so light and easy to use. It is expensive but worth it.
SK: Please give an example of your eclectic style of cuisine at Log Haven. What’s on the Menu tonight?
DJ: A lot! But a good example of my way with food is our great steelhead trout from Koosharem, Utah. I serve it with a warm soba noodle salad, Korean chili Paste, miso butter and kimchi furikake. One of our desserts is a Slide Ridge Honey (from Mendon, Utah) Cr?me Brulee, with a great huckleberry coulis. Of course, I can also serve a nectarine sorbet, made from the nectarines I picked today from my garden this morning.
SK: Do you have any food philosophies that you can share with the serious home chef?
DJ: Well, again, like with my old cookbooks, don’t be fearful of experimentation. Because I have been a chef for so long, I have developed great taste memory )all chefs do) and we know how something will taste before we finish reading the recipe. I think this attribute can be learned also, and it is learned only through trying something out. I think that a great recipe is a pattern to experiment with. It is not cast in stone. Great recipes and great dishes evolve because of the chef or the home cook dares to add or subtract. It’s like math, but it tastes better.