Prima's Eliot and Jennifer Jackson-King: Chef Chat, part 3

Jennifer grew up on a farm, but New York-native Eliot had a lot to learn about rural life.

Jennifer grew up on a farm, but New York-native Eliot had a lot to learn about rural life.

Prima's husband-and-wife operators come from very different backgrounds. Chef Eliot King grew up in New York City; Jennifer Jackson-King grew up on a dairy farm near Brainerd.

Eliot has since embraced Jennifer's rural roots, and he's spending summer mornings raising produce that goes on the menu at Prima each night.

As for Jennifer, she's leaving work to strap on cowboy boots and compete in horse-riding tournaments.

We sat down with the couple to talk about their life after-hours. This is the third in a three-part series. (Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.)


As a native New Yorker, Eliot, is it a huge leap for you to work on a farm today? Eliot: Ten years later we're kind of used to it, but it was a bit of a stretch for me. It's definitely been a learning experience for me.

Jennifer: I don't think the average person understands anymore where their food comes from. Especially children. They think meat comes from a package in the grocery store. Living on a farm and understanding how a farm works, I think everyone should have to do it for just a little while--a mini-weekend farm experience.

The chef at Prima rarely finds a moment to cook at home.

The chef at Prima rarely finds a moment to cook at home.

Jennifer, I understand that you compete in the sport of Cutting. [In cutting, a horse and rider separate a cow from the herd in two-and-a-half minute competitions.] Jennifer: Cutting is a big thing in Texas and California, and it's becoming a bigger thing here. We load up the trailer and head to shows and bring our horses and go stay two, three, or four days and compete. It's kind of a man's sport, and it's more so becoming a woman's sport. There is a relatively large winery in Napa called Trefethen Winery, and Janet Trefethen is a woman who is really big in the cutting industry. It's frightening and thrilling all at the same time. I really have a passion for it.

Tonight I'm hauling my 9-year-old daughter to go sort cattle in pens in Buffalo. She rides a full-size horse. She sorts groups of cattle from pen-to-pen by number on horseback in a timed allotment. It's great to watch my 9-year-old kid participate in this.

It's amazing you have time for the hobby.

Jennifer: I know. I work lunch, then I put on a totally different hat and load up the truck and trailer and get the cowboy boots and spurs out and load up the horses and head to a ranch in Buffalo. It's a total departure from what you would see me doing here during the day. You would have no idea.

Eliot, do you have hobbies outside of the restaurant as well? Eliot: (laughs) Not many.

Do you have favorite music to cook by? Eliot: Sometimes we get a few complaints from the front of the house before we open.

Jennifer: They have a lot of hard-core rock 'n' roll going on in the kitchen in the morning. I would turn on the country music station if I could, but when they're here, it's all hard-core stuff.

What do you cook at home? Eliot: I don't do much cooking at home. Mostly Jennifer does the cooking at home. No. 1, I don't have time; and No. 2, I've been cooking all day.

Jennifer: We have potato pancakes every Sunday morning, cooked in bacon fat. It's our religious thing, and when he doesn't make it, our daughter's like, 'Aww, no potato pancakes this morning?' That's the one thing we beg him to cook. I do all the prep work. He just has to fry them.

Do you have a favorite Twin Cities restaurant? Eliot: Living in Waconia is just kind of a ...

Jennifer: ...Restaurant wasteland. Bar food.

Eliot: By the time you get all the chores done and everything, and drive back into the city...

Jennifer: We get a lot of Chinese takeout.

Doesn't it kill you to eat that after cooking here? Jennifer: I know, and then you just feel terrible the next day.

Eliot: It is one of the disadvantages of living out there, not being able to dine at the places we'd like to. It's about a 35-minute commute.

Jennifer and her daughter compete in horse-riding tournaments like cutting and team sorting.

Jennifer and her daughter compete in horse-riding tournaments like cutting and team sorting.

Jennifer: Once you leave, you get all dirty. You take your farm clothes off, and you look at the clock and it's quarter to 8, and you have to turn around and come back [to the restaurant] in 10 hours.

What are your hopes for the future of the new farm-to-table work you're doing? Eliot: I'm hoping that by next year we'll be able to supply the restaurant with all of our lettuces for the season, for at least five months out of the year. I'd like to expand without it taking over all my time, so I'm still actually doing the cooking that I enjoy doing. I don't want to produce all this stuff, and then not get to use it all because I'm spending all my time producing it. It's been a new challenge and it's been exciting.

You often hear about the farm-to-table movement, but you don't often hear about a chef doing it all himself. Eliot: A lot of people don't have that ability because they don't have the space. We're fortunate enough to have that. It's something I wanted to do for a while. I didn't realize it would take up this much of my time, but I actually really enjoy it. It gives you much more appreciation. You buy a box of mixed greens from your supplier for $8 or $9--it's got to cost me at least $20 to produce the same amount of greens. It gives you a greater appreciation for what it takes to actually produce the stuff, and it gets you a little more personally involved.