Chef C.J. Jacobson – Executive Chef and Partner of Ema Restaurant – Chicago

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Chef C.J. Jacobson – Executive Chef and Partner of Ema’s Restaurant in Chicago, a Lettuce Entertain You Enterprise

Competitions give you a winner, but adding a great story produces a real champion, a hero to be admired. That was the person we wanted to interview.

You probably saw Chef C.J. Jacobson when he appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef television program. He was an ideal reality show contestant, very tall, funny, unassuming, and always willing to help out. Attending college on a volleyball scholarship and almost making the U.S. Volleyball Team prepared him for competitions.

Not one to give up in his life, he battled cancer and was determined to meet life’s challenges. He starred in two seasons of Bravo’s Top Chef but was eliminated from the competition. But he didn’t give up.  He came back ready to try again, meeting another challenge in Top Chef Duels in 2014.  His philosophy was “It’s win or learn. There is no losing.”

Attending Le Cordon Bleu-affiliated College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena and working throughout California under Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton, he nurtured his cooking passion. Being an executive chef at The Yard, participating in James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour in 2013, and working closely at the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen with Chef Rene Redzepi, he sharpened his skills by foraging, exploring, and researching new ideas.

Entering Top Chef Duels, Chef C.J. reinvented himself and refused to feel like an underdog. Dishes like black bass marinated in dark chocolate with huitiacoche and crispy lentils put him in the top four.  Then his final dish of duck a l’orange-inspired crispy confit with oranges, kumquats, and Manzanita berries impressed the judges.  In his own words, CJ said, “I went from being not very good to good.” The truth was this was the result of lots of hard work and his “win or learn” attitude. This became the season’s biggest television surprise.  He was the top winner of $100,000.  So we want you now to meet a real life champion…………Chef C.J. Jacobson.