As a kid, Dan Jacobs wanted to be a cop; his brother, a robber. Thankfully neither took that route. Jacobs, a Chicago native who has lived in Milwaukee since 2011, is a chef who stays true to his Midwestern roots while incorporating the global culinary influence he has sought out all his life.
After taking a few courses at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (now Le Cordon Bleu), Jacobs began working at the legendary restaurant, Carlos’, where he spent two years learning technique from the masterful Carlos Nieto. When not in the kitchen, Jacobs absorbed all he could reading some of the classic cookbooks by chefs including Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Rick Bayless, Andrew Dornenburg and more. Over the next decade and a half, Jacobs worked in several of Chicago’s best kitchens – TRU and North Pond as saucier, Aubriot as a roundsman and NAHA working pastry under the talented Carrie Nahabedian.
He then joined the Spring team under Shawn McClain and, when McClain next opened the vegetable-driven Green Zebra, he made Jacobs sous chef. From there, he worked at the four-star Pluton and sister restaurant Narra; in 2006 he accepted a position as chef de cuisine at Michael Altenberg’s Bistro Campagne, where he spent the next four years. At the bistro, Jacobs began working closely with area farmers, forging relationships and a commitment to support local and responsibly grown products, which is now tantamount to his everyday cooking philosophy. The late Altenberg, as well as McClain and Nahabedian became mentors and friends to the young chef.
In 2011, Jacobs decided to move north to Milwaukee where he accepted a position as sous chef at Roots and was quickly elevated to executive chef. In fall 2012, Roots transitioned to Wolf Peach and was awarded a number of accolades under Jacobs’ lead including On Milwaukee’s “Best New Restaurant” and was named one of the five best restaurants to open in 2013 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In early 2014, Jacobs accepted the executive chef position at Odd Duck, where he continued to garner both media and consumer attention.
Late the following year, Jacobs left to collaborate with chef Dan Van Rite to open DanDan, a modern Chinese-American restaurant. Jacobs and Van Rite opened DanDan in July 2016, bringing chef-driven Chinese food with a midwestern sensibility to Milwaukee’s dining scene. Shortly after opening DanDan, the duo opened a highly-acclaimed fine dining restaurant and chef’s table concept, EsterEv, inside DanDan. The restaurant, named for Van Rite’s grandmother Evelyn and Jacobs’ great-grandmother Ester, offers a globally influenced 10 course pre-fixe menu that changes weekly.
In the same year as opening DanDan and EsterEv, Jacobs received life-changing news. He was diagnosed with Kennedy’s disease, a genetic neuromuscular ailment that’s often mistaken for ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. While running a standout restaurant, Jacobs’ strives to raise awareness about the disease. Jacobs and Van Rite have created Dim Sum + Give Some, an annual event that brings the top restaurants in Milwaukee together to raise money for the Kennedy’s Disease Association.
Jacobs is married to ceramics artist Kate Riley, who specializes in rustic, handmade pottery for chefs and created all the serveware for DanDan and EsterEv. Jacobs and Riley also host “Plate Collective” a quarterly collaborative dinner series with Milwaukee-based chefs featuring a coursed dinner and custom serveware. When they’re not behind the kitchen or kiln, Jacobs and Riley can be found at their home in the Bayview neighborhood of Milwaukee.