You Won't Believe What Top Chef's C.J. Jacobson is Doing With Kale at His New Restaurant

Hint: It's not a kale salad.

When Top Chef  Season 3 alum and Top Chef Duels winner C.J. Jacobson opens his new restaurant Ēma in Chicago this summer, he'll be putting a bunch of surprising dishes on his California-Mediterranean menu. For one thing, C.J. will be doing some exciting new things with vegetables, including the ubiquitous kale. Ēma's in-house rotisserie program will allow C.J. to develop innovative recipes like "rotisserie-style" kale, i.e. lacinato kale that's been blanched and continuously cooked on the spit—just like meat.

Ēma, his first restaurant with Chicago's Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, will have a mostly small-plates menu along with a grab-and-go counter. “I love the idea of eating small plates. I don’t want to commit to large plates because I get tired of the same thing," C.J. told The Feast. The restaurant's name means "mother" in Hebrew, and its roster of dishes will showcase inspirations from Jacobson’s travels to Italy, Israel and Egypt. 

“I remember being in Italy and Israel, just going to markets teeming with people who are just so excited about food. There were mounds of the most beautiful vegetables and people were just eating them simply with olive oil and sea salt," C.J. said. "When you see all the beautiful food, it just makes sense— that's what we're supposed to be eating.".

Diners might also notice influences from Jacobson's work with acclaimed restaurants such as L.A.'s Girasole and Campanile, and Noma in Copenhagen—plus his Top Chef stints. The menu of 15-20 items will focus on C.J.'s inventive takes on fresh seasonal produce and proteins. Meanwhile, the grab-and-go counter will sell fresh bread and sandwiches along with soft-serve frozen Greek yogurt with unique savory toppings like olive oil and sea salt, or sweet ones like shredded baklava. Visit Ēma's website for updates on the opening date.

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