The world according to Project Angel Heart's Jon Emanuel: Chicago restaurants rule, Tool is cool, and goat meat is fuel
There are good chefs and chefs who do good: Jon Emanuel is both. During his career, the head cooker at Project Angel Heart has fed everyone from rocket scientists to garbage men, but his position at Project Angel Heart -- a Denver nonprofit that dishes out 800 meals a day to people with potentially life-threatening illnesses -- has been the most fulfilling. "This job has it all: amazing people, a rabid fan base, regular hours, a great kitchen crew and staff, wonderful volunteers, and I get to do what I absolutely love, which is cooking and giving back to the community," says Emanuel. "The reality is that we serve people in really, really bad shape -- people with illnesses that could end their life -- and our food is what sustains them and keeps them healthy. Our goal is to make it so the potential for living is greater than the potential for dying."
Lori Midson Jon Emanuel, executive chef of Project Angel Heart
The 42-year-old Jersey boy, who was raised in the Bay Area and got his first restaurant gig as a banquet captain in a Marriott hotel, snagged his degree from the California Culinary Academy and did time at Roy's in San Francisco before heading to Alaska to take on the executive-chef position at Glacier Bay Country Inn. "I wanted to make a name for myself in uncharted territory, I love working with fish and I like taking chances, so Alaska was a natural choice," explains Emanuel, who spent Alaska's off-season winters cooking at the South Pole as part of the United States Antarctica Program. "I was cooking for scientists and support members, all in the name of supporting scientific research," he jokes. But after six years of going back and forth between Alaska and Antarctica, he was done: "It was one of those things where I'd immersed myself so much that there was nothing more to learn, and by that point, I couldn't take it anymore."
So he started a job search that landed him in Colorado, at Project Angel Heart. "I really wanted to teach, but there weren't a lot of jobs -- until this one came along -- and when I interviewed for the position, I knew that this would be a challenging job where I could teach, give back and cook food that's made from scratch and would hold its own in any restaurant," says Emanuel. "This is not institutional food; this is cuisine."
In the following interview, Emanuel expands on his role at Project Angel Heart, extols the virtues of his father, goat meat and the generosity of Denver diners and chefs, and explains how he went from a "puss" to a brute.