E.J. HODGKINSON: EXECUTIVE CHEF – JCT. KITCHEN AND BAR
Before becoming the Executive Chef at JCT. Kitchen and Bar in January 2013, E.J. Hodgkinson crisscrossed the country, polishing his culinary chops at luxury resorts, cafés and the Texas Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu. Hodgkinson’s comfort in the kitchen came easy, as he watched his grandmother tend to her garden, turning fresh, local ingredients into fulfilling and nourishing meals at the family dinner table. The 29-year-old California native is in an unabashed love affair with the South now, and aims to rocket JCT. Kitchen to the national acclaim it deserves.
Executive Chef E.J. Hodgkinson has been immersed in a vibrant culinary culture for half of his life. The Placerville, California, native began cooking professionally at the ripe age of 14 in a neighborhood coffee shop. It was during this chef-driven childhood that Hodgkinson developed his insatiable appreciation for locally sourced ingredients, observing his grandmother canning the tomatoes grown in her lush California garden. “My grandmother taught me the art of preservation and the concept of farm-to-table long before it was cool or a cliché,” says the family-oriented chef who could cook an egg at the tender age of 6. “I fell into cooking comfortably.”
Once he finished high school, the adventurous spirit headed to Idaho, polishing his gourmet chef skills at the posh Sun Valley Resort, a luxury travel destination teeming with celebrities seeking refuge and anonymity. Chef Hodgkinson continued with his training in Ashland, Oregon, where he kept beat to a high-paced rhythm at a cozy restaurant which caters to the Shakespeare festival that attracts 1.8 million people annually.
At only 21-years-old, Hodgkinson was named executive chef at Tomei’s, a hip restaurant in his historic hometown, which is famous from the Gold Rush days. He says that “to take the next step I had to take a step back.” So he enrolled in Texas Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Texas. Graduation landed him the sous chef position at for 34th St. Café, where fresh, locally sourced food was the focus.
Chef Hodgkinson’s love affair with the South blossomed when he moved to Atlanta with his girlfriend, who wanted to be closer to her family. He sought out chef positions with premium restaurants, and caught the attention of Bravo’s Top Chef luminary Kevin Gillespie, who was at the helm of Woodfire Grill’s kitchen at the time.
Hodgkinson earned multiple promotions from line cook to sous chef to chef de cuisine in his 4-and-a-half years at Woodfire Grill. “Kevin played an integral role in my falling in love with Southern cuisine,” says Hodgkinson, who confesses he used to think grits played second fiddle to polenta. “I quickly learned it was the other way around,” he says, adding that “Southern cuisine is the richest and most fulfilling in America because of the history and heritage behind it.” Perhaps what has made the deepest imprint on the chef’s heart is how the Southern family values its meals around the table, which reminds him of his own family back in California. “Sitting down with your family every night and eating dinner together is how I grew up, but it’s not the norm in California. It seems to be the norm in the South, and it’s why I fell in love with it.”
The chef’s expansive knowledge of sourcing the freshest ingredients and layering their flavors into perfection led to a call from Chef Ford Fry in the fall of 2012, inviting him to become part of the JCT. Kitchen family. As executive chef of the lauded dining destination known for its down-home gourmet style, Hodgkinson revels in employing the proper, fundamental techniques to bring out the best of each ingredient and letting each component speak for itself. “Something gets lost in translation when you do too much to it,” he says.
Chef Hodgkinson easily became a proud ambassador for Chef Fry’s West Midtown restaurant. “What I love about JCT is the friendly, comfortable experience offered from start to finish. I like people to feel like they’ve come into my home and had an amazing meal, accompanied by great, not-too-intrusive service and incredible drinks.”
The ambitious chef has set his sights on countrywide acclaim for JCT. Kitchen. His goal is elevating the level of cuisine without becoming pretentious, continuing to make it a fun place at which to dine and experience food. “My aim is to execute a very high level of food in a format which people can enjoy and still keep it approachable,” he says, noting that the Southern focus situated in comfortable yet refined environs is what’s kept it such high regard with Atlanta’s foodie community. “There’s a reason it’s been here for seven years. I aim to just make it make it better. I would like to take JCT to the national realm of recognition. Ford knows I’ve always had my foot on the gas.”
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