By Grace Hitzeman
Executive Sous Chef Jake Owen has been promoted to Executive Chef in Charleston, W. Va. and will soon be leaving Kenyon.
Damon Remillard, head of AVI for Kenyon, said members of AVI approached him three years ago looking for someone from a rural environment to fill the position. “They said ‘We don’t want someone who’s really down with this city. We want someone who likes to fish and hunt,'” he said. “I was like, ‘Bingo!’ That’s Jacob. He is an avid fisherman and an avid hunter.”
“It’s tough for me to get rid of someone, but, at the same time, it’s an honor because now he gets to be that top person,” Remillard said. He also spoke of Owen’s impact on Kenyon over the years: “[Kenyon] is going to lose a great man. Jacob has had a lot of relationships with students. It could have been one of his strongest suits besides his food and management style,” he said. “You think of a chef and you think of his food, and that’s important, but it’s also how you relate to people, how you relate to employees, how you relate to students, our guests. … We’re definitely going to miss him here.”
AVI is in the process of searching for a replacement for Owen, according to Remillard. “We’re looking through four to five candidates. I’d say two to four weeks,” he said. “We have a strong team here that will pick up the pieces until the next person comes.”
Owen had just begun his third year at Kenyon. He said his favorite memory was his first time playing with the rugby team. “My very first year I joined the team here,” he said. “Their team was just great. They were amazing. I love it, and to see those guys – without a coach – doing it by themselves. I have a lot of respect for them for that.” Owen still plays with the team as much as his schedule will allow. “[It helps us] form a better relationship between them and us up here,” he explained.
Owen played a large role in sustainability at Kenyon, according to Remillard. “He and [AVI Director of Sustainability] John Marsh would work side by side [for the local food movement]. Jacob, being a hunter, knows cuts of meat … [and] being someone who has grown up in a rural area, he knows farming and cultivation,” Remillard said.
Owen explained his interest by relating it to his childhood. “I grew up as a farm kid; I ran combines; I worked on 3,000-acre farms and stuff like that. It was second nature to me,” he said. “I like the sustainability, and I like to see those little farms that I grew up working on.” Concerning the constraints that sustainability puts on the menu, he said, “As far as the menu, we stick as much as we can to the sustainability. Obviously, we can’t always – our purveyors can’t do it or something. But for the most part, if we can’t get it, we change the menu.”
Owen said he will miss the people he has worked with at Kenyon for the past two years. “I spend more time here than I do with my family, so it’s a brothership, a kinship,” he said. “I don’t know a single person [in W. Va.].” He said he is “very anxious and very excited” about the move.
Owen said the thing that he would most like to change about Kenyon is that he wants the students to understand how much AVI employees work. “I’ve got guys here who work a 17-hour shift – 6:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. I think the student body as a whole should have a higher level of respect for these guys,” he said.
“The students have come a long way from the two years that I’ve been here,” Owen said. “The upperclassmen are really showing the standard: this is what you guys should be doing; this is how you guys should be reacting and treating these guys.” He also added, “Be a little patient with us – we’re not perfect. We’re human.
“It has been a real pleasure to be here at Kenyon,” Owen said. “I’ve loved every minute of it. These guys have thrown me so many curveballs and so many new things in my life and have really taught me to raise myself and my expectations and who I am, not only professionally but personally. I am a different person than when I started.”