Jessica Yarr took over executive chef duties at Assembly in late November, and has been earning praise from local foodies for her work so far. We caught up with Yarr to ask her about her plans for the popular downtown Santa Cruz spot.
What’s your vision for the Assembly menu?
I want to create a menu that’s more accessible to Santa Cruz diners, with seasonal, farm-to-table flair. For example, I want to do a chicken leg confit, instead of a duck confit that people are used to. I want to do something a little more country style. I want to focus on doing some house-cured meats and some interesting vegetarian dishes as well. We have the yoga studio next door. I’d like to lure those folks in. Do some hippie-dippy, fun sprouted seeds and Santa Cruz stuff.
How long have you been cooking?
I started working full-time in restaurants when I was 15. My first job was at La Bruschetta. It was one of the original farm-to-table restaurants in Felton, an organic Sicilian place. I went and had lunch with my mom. It changed my life. I told the owner that it was the best meal I ever had. “Oh cool, want a job?” I was like, “What?” That started it all. They have an old-school way of looking at things as far as women in the workforce. When I told them I wanted to go to culinary school, he said, “You should stay here, work for me, have babies.” I graduated high school early, and I went to culinary school at 17. I moved back home and got an internship at Theo’s. They hired me on as pastry chef. Then I was the pastry chef for Google. Then, from there, I went to Gabriella Café, and Main Street Garden, which was the old Theo’s. I just try to stay connected to all the best chefs in the area.
What’s your approach to cooking?
I’m ingredient- and technique-driven. I strongly believe that if you’re starting with the best possible ingredients, and treating them with care and executing them, and keeping them clean, it speaks for itself. I really like fermenting, anything that involves curing. I like projects. I like to teach myself new techniques. It gets boring chopping up vegetables and throwing them in the pot.