COLUMBIA, SC — As a teenager, Joseph Jacobson helped out at a family friends restaurant in Charleston, setting tables.
I fell in love from the first time I was working there, he said. In the dining rush, Jacobson felt like an integral part of the restaurants operation.
Now 27 and executive chef at Main Streets new Oak Table restaurant, Jacobson knows that it takes a lot more work to run a kitchen. But his love for the industry has never wavered, even causing him to wrap up his studies early as a student at the University of South Carolina and return home to start his career.
Jacobson is settling into his role at the Oak Table, which opened a little more than a month ago at the corner of Main and Gervais streets in downtown Columbia.
Its a natural progression, he said, that stemmed from his boyhood days with a large Southern and Jewish family whose home life often centered around food.
Jacobson grew up in Pimlico watching his grandmother cook dinner every Friday night for 10 to 35 people for Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. He also watched his mother cook and his father grill. And when he had parties or tailgates as a teenager, he was the chef often figuring it out as he went along.
It was the role I fell into, he said.
Jacobson was home from USC on break in 2005 when his parents sat him down for a talk. Both he and his parents acknowledged that he was directionless at college. They nudged him toward pursuing his passion by taking a job at a new restaurant Oak Steakhouse that was opening up near their bed-and-breakfast-like business on Broad Street in Charleston.
Jacobson started out as a servers assistant. Then, he worked as an expediter, the liaison between the restaurant and dining room. Eventually, Jacobson became the garde manger, in charge of cold foods, such as salads.
When he thought no one was looking, he would fiddle around with sauté pans, testing different combinations to see what worked. The managers took notice, and Jacobson, eventually, was promoted to sous chef and then chef de cuisine.
In 2010, the owners brought in Jeremiah Bacon, who had worked at several prominent New York City restaurants, as executive chef. Jacobson said Bacon was a good role model, putting a heavy emphasis on using locally sourced products.
A year later, management took Jacobson along on a ride to Charlotte to scout new restaurant locations. They made a pit stop in Columbia along the way to check out one site. As soon as they saw the view from Main & Gervais, looking out onto the State House grounds, they knew they had found their spot.
It was a fit for Jacobson, who left a thriving social life in Columbia when he left school.
It was a natural progression for me, he said. I love Columbia.
Running the kitchen now as executive chef is more personal for Jacobson than it ever has been.
If (customers) dont like the food, they dont like Joseph Jacobsons food, he said.
His goal is to make Oak Table a place where typical consumers can get a good meat-and-potatoes meal, but where foodies also can experiment with more exotic fare.
For example, he serves the famous Mac Burger from his restaurant chains Macintosh restaurant in Charleston. But he also dabbles in charcuterie, an ancient practice of using every part of an animal that has become popular in many foodie hot spots in New York and Atlanta.
Jacobson also focuses on using local food sources as much as possible, such as serving heritage pigs from a farm in Pamplico. He also orders only whole fish rather than filleted so he can check the eyes and gills to make sure they are healthy before serving them.
Its very important to know what youre putting in your body, he said. We do a lot of the thinking for you.
Jamestown Coffee now in Columbia
Lexingtons loss is Columbias gain as Jamestown Coffee Co. settles into its new location inside Cromers P-Nuts on Huger Street.
The new café opened Thursday, featuring its popular Palmetto Pecan lattes and Gamecock mochas. The shop also is serving pastries.
Jamestown lost its lease and closed up shop in Lexington a month ago, and made the decision recently to partner with Cromers.
It just seemed like an interesting fit to put the two brands together, owner James Kirk said. They were very enthusiastic about adding a coffee bar/café to their mix.
Cromers which goes by the tagline, Guaranteed worst in town is a longtime Columbia business well-known for its flavored popcorn and peanuts. It recently has added gourmet snacks to the mix.
Kirk said he is looking at expanding his brand into other parts of the Midlands next year.