City Tavern's chef Jessica Christensen and her craft beer pairings

After being inspired by a man that cooked food at San Quentin State Prison, Jessica Christensen decided to try her hands in the culinary world. After years of working in fine dining establishments like the Ritz Carlton and the Montage, chef Jessica now has a place she calls home. City Tavern is located in downtown Culver City and has been around for less than a year, but Jessica has already made quite the reputation for her dinner pairings with beers from local breweries.

Who's Jessica?

[info]Before making her way into fancy kitchens like the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Jessica studied art in college. She graduated with a degree in fine arts, art history and art philosophy with plans to become an artist. She moved out to California from North Carolina about 17 years ago where she worked in a gallery. While working there, she realized she “wasn't cool enough to be a starving artist.”

With doubts about her career in the art world, she left the gallery and took a manager job at a coffee shop in Newport Beach. “They had the best food,” she says. People would come up to her and ask her where the chef trained, she would tell them, “San Quentin, in jail.” She thought if the chef at this coffee shop can do it, so could she.

And with that she attended Orange Coast College for their culinary program. “I took some basic classes. Eventually I stopped going to school. I got a job at the Ritz. I would come in three hours early to learn. I would follow the butcher around and bugged him until he got used to me.”

Rush Street and City Tavern

After leaving the fine dining world, she was hired by Dave Northrup as a sous chef at Rush Street. When the Rush Street team (Ken Kaufman, Brian McKeaney and Dave Northrup) started working on City Tavern, they had plans for Jessica to be the chef at the new establishment. “From day one I was involved. I wrote the first menu. I helped design the kitchen, I have been working on this for about a year. I am not an owner but it's probably the closest I've ever felt to being a complete part of the restaurant. Everything from the tableware to the mismatching silverware. I have a very personal connection to the place,” she explains.

[quote2 align=right]City Tavern offers 22 craft beers on tap, craft beers in cans and bottles, wines, handcrafted cocktails, and boasts the “first state approved restaurant with computerized draft beer systems at three of their booths.” The food ranges from sharable seasonal dishes like Burrata with butternut squash to more comforting items like the Carolina pulled pork sandwich or CT Burger, made with Creekstone natural beef, cheddar and house made thousand island sauce. Jessica tells us, “There are communal sharing foods for those that want to try a whole bunch of things and if you want a burger and beer, it's here too.”

How she pairs food with beer

Dave's idea was to do a craft beer restaurant. Jessica says, “He was always the one pushing for craft beer. I didn't know a lot about craft beer until I came here.” In May of this year, Jessica teamed up with L.A.'s Eagle Rock Brewery to create her first ever craft beer dinner, and she's not slowing down. Jessica has teamed up with Cismontane Brewing Co. from Rancho Santa Margarita, Ladyface Ale Companies from Agoura Hills, TAPS from Brea and with Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing Company planned for January.

[quote]Her method of pairing is to work closely with the brewery. She would visit them and taste whatever they want her to taste, “I usually ask them what they would like to see in the dinner. I like to let the brewer choose what they are into.” Her approach is by using a theme. “With Eagle Rock Brewery, it was infusion, with Cismontane it was Southern, and with Ladyface Ale it's end of the summer picnic, mainly because the restaurant up there is so pretty.”

Jessica believes pairing food with beer is more challenging, “I like the fact craft beer is more manipulable than wine. I try to make sure it matches, and try to think of all the flavors without over thinking it. I brainstorm the flavors and try to pick a high note out of each beer and go with it.”
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Besides pairing food with beer, patrons will also find it in her food. “As the manager of this restaurant could tell you, I use my fair share of beer.”

Chef Jessica Christensen about one of her favorite raw ingredients

The finger lime, also known as “citrus caviar” with a similar taste to lemon or lime, even though it's technically not part of the lemon or lime family. She gets hers from Shanley Farms in Morro Bay in the San Joaquin Valley.

Recipe from Jessica Christensen:

Burrata with Warm Butternut Squash, Sage and Pepitas from chef Jessica Christensen of City Tavern

Video produced by Stan Lee