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Comfort food — with a twist

If you were going to open a restaurant, you would want Derek Jensen on your team.

"There isn’t much I haven’t done in this industry," he says.

Lucky for restaurateur Scott Foster, their paths crossed at just the right time. Jensen was looking for a new opportunity and Foster needed an executive chef. The results are evident in Chester’s Kitchen & Bar in University Square, the newest offering on the Rochester restaurant scene.

Jensen describes it is a "hip urban style spot with a strong emphasis on Midwestern comfort food."

That would seem to be his niche exactly. "I am a Midwestern chef. I love this kind of food, I love what it represents and I love to fix it," he says. "The goal here is to present recognizable dishes prepared with a few subtle special twists."

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Menu items include meatloaf, rotisserie chicken, turkey with dressing, steaks, hamburgers, fish, sandwiches and salads. Desserts include a bread pudding that is off the charts.

The son of missionaries, Jensen was born in Ethiopia and lived wherever his parents mission work took them, finally spending much of his childhood in Dubuque, Iowa.

"It wasn’t too far from my grandmother and she was a big influence," he says. "She was always in the kitchen, there was always food that she had just prepared. Both she and my mother were wonderful cooks and demonstrated to me over and over the amazing graciousness of food and hospitality and how it relates to family. That has always been very important to me."

Prior to coming to Rochester, Jensen was the long-time executive chef at Jensen’s Supper Club in Eagen, just south of the Twin Cities. As he was pondering what to do next a friend put him in touch with Scott Foster.

"Foster has tremendous vision and I really respect that," Jensen says. "This was a great opportunity for me. The timing seemed right, opening a new restaurant, the revitalization of the downtown. It is all very exciting."

Holly Ebel of Rochester is a freelance writer.

Q&A with Derek Jensen

Q: What do you see as your biggest challenges here?

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A: Handling the volume, keeping the crew focused. Presentation. We have 15 cooks on the line and prepping, and right now were are still in the training stage for everybody, learning the routine. It is also really important to keep the vision intact.

Q: Both you and your wife cook at home. What do you like the best?

A: No question, barbecue. Everything, pulled pork, ribs, beef. In fact, I am going to build a smoke house in my backyard. I’ve already told the neighbors they better plan on a lot of barbecue feasts this summer.

Q: Any hobbies?

A: One thing I really enjoy is landscaping. I have a yard that I’ll be working on. Working with the land brings me a lot of satisfaction and ties together with my passion for food and people.

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