Embracing the fun
March/April 2017 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Barbara Arciero
Photos by Alternative Strategies
San Diego chef finds joy in his job
Jason Hotchkiss uses fresh, seasonal ingredients to create what he describes as "simple, approachable, well-balanced food."
At the age of 21, Jason Hotchkiss was given the opportunity to turn a childhood passion into a career. It came down to two options: flight school or culinary school.
"I had to do some soul-searching," he recalled. "I wrote down what I really wanted to do, the pros and cons of both things. Cooking overruled everything."
So the Massachusetts native—who was living in San Diego at the time—headed for San Francisco.
"Being in San Francisco and eating all this wonderful food and working at these wonderful restaurants and going to culinary school, it hit me like a pile of bricks," he said. "I fell in love with every aspect of cooking."
A couple of decades later, Hotchkiss remains enamored.
"I love to create," he said. "I love to run a restaurant. It's harmony. It's like a concert. When everything's hitting on all cylinders, it's a lot of fun."
Patrons of Encontro, a neighborhood eatery in San Diego's vibrant North Park district, are the current beneficiaries of Hotchkiss' love of his craft. He has been its executive chef since last fall.
"My true passion is just to talk to the guests, make them happy, make them smile, create dishes that bring people together and just do fun stuff," he said, including creating a doggie menu for the four-legged companions of Encontro's patio guests.
Embracing the fun, Hotchkiss said, makes his 14-hour workdays fly by: "That's why I do this. That's where I'm at now."
Buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with chipotle barbecue sauce
Kale salad with agave lime dressing
Grilled asparagus and egg
Portobello fries with basil aïoli