Chewing the *Bacon* Fat with Chef Jason (part 1) by Deb Glasser, MS, RD
Jason Keegan grew up a latch key kid who, by default, began cooking for himself and his sisters. After seven years at Bar Crudo and a stint at Beast and the Hare in San Francisco, he moved to LA to run one of SNP’s school kitchens. Fast forward six years. Jason, now SNP’s Culinary Operations Director oversees all outside operations (kitchens) and provides support and leadership to the entire SNP team.
We crossed paths at SNP’s headquarters and had the opportunity to sit and chat.
Deb Glasser(DG): Where does your love for food and cooking come from?
Jason Keegan(JK): (chuckling) I like to eat.
DG: But seriously.
JK: Cooking with my grandma on the holidays, we’d make cinnamon rolls and fried chicken. She used to make her mother’s egg noodles from scratch and I’d help her. She was born and raised in Compton, but of German and Swedish decent. She had her culinary bases covered. My grandma was around as much as my mom. And I also hung around Brandon (Brandon Neuman, SNP’s VP and Executive Chef) at his house. Brandon’s mom was a baker and I spent lots of time with his family, especially with his mom in her kitchen. We’d bake cakes and cookies and she always made fun lunches.
DG: When did you start cooking?
JK: I started cooking for myself in middle school. My parents worked long hours and my sisters and I had to fend for ourselves. We’d be hungry, and we’d make ourselves food. That simple. And then I started cooking for my sisters.
DG: Clearly you didn’t start with a béchamel, what was the progression?
JK: Frozen things eventually evolved into Rice a Roni and we were really into mocktails. Hilarious!!We’d experiment with different fruit juices and sodas.
DG: And then?
JK: At 15 I got a job with my aunt cooking for 150 kids at a preschool. That was my first professional cooking gig. I also worked at Subway, and that lasted about 2 months.
DG: Not a very long tenure as a Subway sandwich artist?
JK: I was yelled at for scooping tuna incorrectly. The irony is, now I know the importance of scoop size.
JK: From there I worked in the printing industry and delivery driving, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. And then by chance I went to Disney and started working at the new hotel (Disney’s Grand Californian) as a valet and bellman. The money wasn’t cuttin’ it and I picked up a side job waiting tables at Red Lobster and that’s when I decided I wanted to cook.
DG: Red Lobster inspired your culinary dream?
JK: I wasn’t good at waiting tables. I dropped food on people, once on an elderly lady, and didn’t want to deal with rude customers. Back of the house was a natural progression.
DG: How did you segue?
JK: I applied, was accepted, and started culinary school at California Culinary Academy in January 2004 in the Bay Area-I moved to San Francisco for school. During school, I waited tables, worked at Starbucks and then interned at Bar Crudo.
DG: How’d you get to SNP?
JK: Brandon and I were best friends, he joined me at culinary school in September, nine months after I started. After school, he came down here to LA and I stayed in San Francisco. Brandon tried to get me to work with him in the early days of SNP, and I just wasn’t ready to leave SF.
DG: So, how and when did you end up at SNP?
JK: He was persistent. I started at SNP in June 2012. I came here in May and met Emily and they hired me.
DG: But initially you were hired to do?
JK: I was hired here to run one school’s kitchen.
DG: And now?
JK: And now I’m overseeing the entire culinary operations, along with Brandon and Exec Sous Chef Louis Martinez