Jacob Nemmers, 25, grew up in a “food desert” in a small Iowan town and went to college to study law. However, he never could give up his dreams of being a chef, so after two years at the University of Iowa, he dropped out, enrolled in a prestigious culinary school, and hasn’t looked back since.
1. When did you first become interested in cooking?
I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado but grew up in eastern Iowa in Lamont. It was a food desert – Casserole Nation. Everything was seasoned with cream of mushroom, cream of celery, and bouillon cubes. No salt, no pepper. There was no dining scene. We would go to buffets for family dinners out.
I started wanting to cook my senior year. It was a total no-go with my parents, though. They thought I would end up working at Applebee’s. So I went to the University of Iowa – I was studying law – and decided it was not for me. When I went home the summer I was 20, I said to my parents, ‘Look, I’ve done 8 credits in 2 years, it’s clearly not working out.’ I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu [College of Culinary Arts] in Minneapolis soon after.
2. How did you end up in New York, then?
I spent about a year in Minnesota and then moved to New York [in Pocantico Hills] to work at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I didn’t have the job yet, but I had been in contact with Adam Kaye – the Kitchen Director – and we agreed I would do a 3 month stage (an unpaid internship in culinary institutions).
I took out a loan, lived in a home stay with a family, and after the stage they offered me a job. Just shy of two years, Alex Grunert, the pastry chef, hired me to work under him for a year.
The best part of Stone Barns was the relationships they gave with the actual product. Once a week during family meal, the brought in a new guy to speak – some fish guy from Spain who sourced fish from a river instead of a manmade place, mushroom farmers, cheese people. We also had to come in 2 hours early to help do farm chores. It was a great experience.
3. What did you do after Stone Barn?
I was hooked up with Matt Lightner in March 2012, who cam from Portland for Atera. I helped with testing and the mock menu for investors. My initial position was pastry and Garde manger (pantry manager) and after 4 months I moved to the savory side and did that for 6 months, so I was there just shy of a year.
4. And now what are you up to?
After I left Atera, I went to pursue this project with K.: Omar.
Me, K., and two other people I worked with at Stone Barn, S. and G. We split up and did our own thing for a year, but then K. told us all about his project in November, and we were super interested in it. This became Omar, a restaurant we are opening next month.