Chef Kurt Jacobsen, owner of the Main Street Cafe in Cottonwood with his wife Tracy, has been cooking since his college days and has taken an adventurous route to where he is today.
Kurt was born in Tacoma, Wash., and raised in California as an “Air Force brat,” as he calls himself. He began cooking in restaurants to get through college and enjoyed it so much that he quit college and worked full-time.
After a few years, he and a friend went on a month-long trip of exploration. They drove from Sacramento to the Panama Canal and then ended up going to Costa Rica where Kurt stayed for five years.
His friend returned to the United States and Kurt went into ranching in San Ramon, “just to try something different,” he says. “I learned a lot about Costa Rican food and discovered what it was like to use fresh ingredients. I had no electricity, so I lived off my garden and cooked with the local people. My past experience with cooking was in 24-hour type coffee shops, so this was new to me.”
He grew coffee beans, which he toasted and ground and sold through a cooperative, and raised cattle to sell to the local meat markets. He grew black beans, corn, plantains, raised chickens and eggs, as well as a milk cow. He made his own cheese and a walk into the woods would provide hearts of palm. He ate a lot of armadillo, which was easy to hunt in the rain forest.
After five years in Costa Rica, he missed the United States and returned home. Because he’d always worked in restaurants, he naturally went back to that line of work. He applied at the Granville Restaurant at the Disneyland Hotel in California and says, “I had learned Spanish in Costa Rica the hard way — no one around me spoke English. By now, everything about me was Spanish — my speaking and thought processes. The guy who interviewed me was from Columbia and he wanted to hire me, but first he wanted to see my green card.”
He was hired for a two-year apprenticeship at the Granville, which served regional American cuisine. His eyes were opened to making sauces, stocks and the techniques of sautéing, grilling, and cooking by taste instead of amounts (i.e.. 1 part to 2 parts). He then worked at restaurants around Southern California and Sacramento, including a while at Chez Cari in Orange County.
He also worked as a ceramic tile-setter at times, though cooking was what he really enjoyed.
Kurt then headed to Arizona, where he worked at the El Tovar Hotel and Restaurant at the Grand Canyon, Rose Buds Restaurant in Sedona as chef, Fiddler’s and Mulligan’s in Flagstaff for one year as executive chef, as well as the Woodland’s Hotel as executive chef.
He came back to Sedona as dinner chef at the former Atrium Restaurant, where he met his wife Tracy. Then in 1996, he opened his first restaurant, Emilio’s, in Sedona, which won a “restaurant of the year” award the first year it was open.
On March 1, 1997, Kurt and Tracy opened the Main Street Cafe, which serves American Bistro Cuisine. Kurt cooked, Tracy was the hostess and 4-month old daughter Danielle slept at the restaurant. They also have 2 other children, Kurt’s daughter Margarite and Tracy’s son Chris.
According to Kurt, opening day was another adventure. “The day before we opened, it snowed in Cottonwood and an electrical conduit canopy collapsed. It pulled a wall down, along with some ceiling tiles. I had to repair everything and get the tiles, which cost $8.50. We were operating on a shoestring budget and a prayer, but we opened that Saturday with food in the kitchen, five bottles of wine and no money left in the bank. We had 150 people for lunch and dinner that day and it has been successful ever since. We have kept a positive attitude and believe in what we are doing.”
Kurt still does most of the cooking, with the help of his sous chef, Irene, while Tracy waitresses in the evening. It’s a family run restaurant where the chef cooks fresh food, especially seafood, every day and loves to come out and meet you.
Southwest Corn Chowder
Kurt’s chowder is a favorite at the Main Street Cafe and he gets many requests for the recipe. He gladly shares it at the restaurant and here.
1 cup diced potatoes
1 cup fresh roasted corn
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup carrot, diced
(Above three items in 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes)
2 strips bacon, cut in 1/2-inch lengths
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup Chablis
1/4 cup fresh chopped garlic
1/2 cup poblano chilies, roasted, peeled and diced (optional)
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (less for milder flavor)
1 quart water
1 quart heavy cream (or milk for lighter soup)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
In an appropriate sized pot (4-quart), put potatoes, corn, onions, celery, carrots, bacon, bouillon, wine, garlic, curry and cayenne. Bring to a boil and cover, lowering the heat to a simmer. Cook ingredients until onions are translucent. Add water and cream and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are just tender.
In a separate pan, melt butter slowly. Add flour and simmer 1 minute, constantly stirring. Add to chowder and simmer chowder 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Finish with salt and white pepper to taste.
Main Street Cafe’s Salsa Fresca
This salsa is a restaurant favorite. Another of his salsa recipes remains a secret because it has been a “Hot Salsa” prize-winner in the Sizzling Salsa Sunday competition in Old Town Cottonwood (coming up May 21st).
1 pound tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers
Salt and fresh lemon juice
Puree all ingredients, except salt and lemon juice, in a food processor. Season with salt and lemon juice to taste.
Southwest Salmon Sauté
This salmon dish of Kurt’s was on the menu at the restaurant in the past and now you can make it at home. He says to “look for fresh and boned Atlantic salmon at the grocery store and it will be good in this dish.”
4 salmon filets, seasoned with salt and white pepper and dredged in flour.
2 tablespoons oil (canola or whatever you like)
5 medium mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic (don’t compromise), chopped
1 tablespoon shallots or red onion, chopped
1 cup white wine
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 small Roma tomato, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
6 sprigs cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a pan of appropriate size (to hold all fish without the pieces touching each other), heat the oil until it just begins to smoke.
Leaving the heat on medium-high, place the salmon filets in the hot oil. Brown them on both sides. (It is very important when sautéing to maintain a consistent level of heat).
Add the mushrooms, shallots and garlic. With a pair of tongs or a spatula, stir the ingredients around, spreading them evenly around and under the fish.
Add white wine when you smell the sweet roasted flavor of garlic (the garlic will be slightly brown and the pieces will begin to stick together). Then add the peppers and tomato.
Reduce by half and add the butter, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce until thickened and finish with a squeeze of lemon. Serves 4.