If Morgen Jacobson cooks half as well as he talks, prepare to be dazzled. The well-spoken chef, a native of Missoula, Montana, and alumnus of some of Manhattan's most celebrated kitchens (including the Quilted Giraffe and Bouley), recently joined the team at Lockkeepers (8001 Rockside Road, 216-524-9404) as executive chef. He's been a busy guy since signing on to shepherd Frank and Malisse Sinito's Valley View restaurant into the big time, tweaking the menu of "modern American cuisine" and developing plans for new dining ventures at Thornburg Station, the Sinitos' commercial development on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. (At this point, those new enterprises include the casual Park City Diner, scheduled to open beside the towpath trail in March, and an as-yet-unnamed Italian restaurant, slated for the old Lockkeepers Inn site, in the more distant future.)
Still, Jacobson found time to give us an insightful phone interview recently, and man, can this guy talk food! While many otherwise-gifted chefs seem to go catatonic when asked to put their philosophy into words, Jacobson takes us on a delicious flight of fancy. Among other tasty topics, he succinctly describes the taste sensations he strives to build into his dishes, while simultaneously illustrating the kinds of creative tensions that inform most artistry. "I like to create flavors that are clean and bright," he says, "but at the same time fleeting and just a little bit elusive, so that diners are continually drawn back to the plate. And what I don't want to do is create food that is weird and esoteric, just to call attention to itself."
He alluringly describes a luncheon entrée of Lake Erie walleye, baked with bread crumbs and thyme, and served with a warm salad of Ohio-grown green beans, corn, and cherry tomatoes, as being "very much my style, combining indigenous ingredients and simple preparation to highlight the beauty of the ingredients." And when he croons about another signature item, fruitwood-smoked salmon in a cool soup of fava beans, sweet-pea puree, and mint ("a sophisticated and delicious layering of flavors" that also happens to be a clever riff on the all-American pairing of ham and beans), it's all we can do to keep from slobbering into our cell phone.
Incidentally, the Sinitos' longtime executive chef, Pamela Waterman, remains a crucial part of the restaurant's culinary team, working side-by-side with Jacobson in the Lockkeepers' kitchen as executive sous chef.