Executive Chef :: Justin Schoville

Before we were lucky enough to have Justin in the ZZest kitchen, he was starting his culinary career as a dishwasher at a small breakfast restaurant in his hometown of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. He soon moved up the ladder and became a sauté cook and the Sunday pancake master. Although he was comfortable in the pancake life, he knew there was more out there. He moved on to a local bar and grill called Dino’s.

In Justin’s own words:

“Dino’s is where it all started for me. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the grill and the prime rib. After a few years of manning the helm at Dino’s I packed my bags and took old Dean’s advice and boarded a plane for New Zealand. There was just something about New Zealand that started a fire in my culinary desire that has yet to burn out.”

Back fresh and energized from New Zealand, Justin enrolled in culinary school.

“I packed my knife kit and headed to culinary school in Minneapolis. Although culinary school was a great experience, I yearned to return to the cooking line. I worked at some small places in Minneapolis and then to Chicago. I got an apprentice position at Copperblue Restaurant. It was there that I learned the importance of quality local ingredients and discovered new culinary techniques.”

From there Justin headed back to Wisconsin to the great culinary scene of Madison. There he worked in a bakery, L’Etoile and at Harvest one of America’s best farm to table restaurants.

“I was offered a job as Executive Chef at Sontes here in Rochester. I loaded up the car and never looked back. I was the Chef at Sontes for a little over four years before I ended up working for Jerry and LeeAnn at ZZest. Needless to say I have been here ever since. Sure I have left a couple of times to work in Chicago and California, but the atmosphere and family camaraderie that is ZZest has always brought me back.”

Working  in Napa CA was at the 3 star Michelin restaurant At Meadowwood. Each time he came back more enthusiastic to bring Rochester all he had learned.

The Test Kitchen

Justin heads up the ZZest kitchen with so much passion and gusto sometimes it seems hard to keep up with him. He will never stop trying to improve and learn. Our kitchen is also a teaching kitchen. Here the other chefs learn and are challenged daily, from Justin. Often times we have culinary students come through for a *stage .( * an unpaid internship when a cook or chef works briefly, sometimes just a night in another chefs kitchen to learn). Even Justin continues to stage.

From teaching simple techniques, or the proper cleaning of wild mushrooms to butchering a whole lamb, it’s a commitment to producing the best we can from our small kitchen.

Hanging in the kitchen are Chef Justin’s idea boards. He strives to not only stay on top of culinary trends but the menu must be seasonal. It’s also very important to Justin to use passionately produced products and to stay local, when able. Given we are such a small restaurant we can utilize things other restaurants can not. Tangled Bank Farm is located near Wabasha MN. Tom supplies us with small amounts of the kitchen proteins. Coming in soon are just six Icelandic lambs. A larger scale restaurant with a static menu would not be able to use this small amount of product. For Justin and ZZest it’s perfect. Justin is also careful to utilize all parts of the animal. After butchering there are still some cuts that would not be enough even to satisfy our menu for more than a day or two. These cuts are used on the Chef Tasting, (truly a menu item that should not be missed). Nothing is wasted. Justin makes lambs bacon for sandwiches or maybe a crumble, which is on the menu right now, our freshly pulled mozzarella salad with fresh pears and a drizzle of butternut squash oil and lambs bacon crumble.

What’s next? It may seem odd but, Chef Justin has challenged himself and the kitchen crew to create THE ultimate burger. With the idea that everyone has a burger on their menu, he wants to build THE best one. It may seem easy, but be assured it’s not. Stay tuned when completed it will be amazing.

His Menu

Because Justin runs a teaching kitchen the chefs are often allowed to help create menu items. They work within guidelines Mike Roeder helped create the newest mozzarella plate. house pulled mozzarella .  urfa lamb sausage . turkish curry vinaigrette . walnut .  pickled salsify .  herb savory.  And, each chef can strut his stuff in the winter when we host WARZZ. The next one up is lasagna warzz. Often times Justin does not participate, and let’s the other chefs battle it out.

The best way to really experience Justin’s cooking is the nightly Chef Tastings. Here the bar is raised, the products a tad more interesting and feature cuts of meats or special seafood we can only get in small quantities.  He’s been saving veal briskets with the hopes of adding it to the menu downtown location ZZest Lunch Counter. But, the quantities we sell downtown are to large. So, stay tuned late night eaters, our Happy Hour Menu is getting a veal brisket sandwich! And check back, the Valentines Day Menu will show off Justin’s talents as well.