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The Lodge at Torrey Pines gets new executive chef as its longtime chef takes new role

Jeff Jackson has moved into a new corporate role after more than 20 years as executive chef at The Lodge at Torrey Pines.
Jeff Jackson has moved into a new corporate role after more than 20 years as executive chef at The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of The Lodge at Torrey Pines)

Jeff Jackson, executive chef at The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla since 2000, has hung up his apron as of Feb. 1 and stepped into the new role of corporate culinary advisor, while Kelli Crosson, chef de cuisine for The Lodge’s A.R. Valentien, has taken the helm as executive chef.

It’s a recipe that Jackson and Crosson hope will extend the culture of community Jackson has sown and reaped over two decades at The Lodge.

Kelli Crosson will lead the kitchens at The Lodge at Torrey Pines as executive chef.
(Courtesy of The Lodge at Torrey Pines)

Jackson said details of his new role are still being defined but will involve “special projects” for The Lodge and its sister establishments in the Evans Hotels group, which include the Bahia Resort in Mission Bay and the Catamaran Resort in Pacific Beach.

Jackson said he’ll take on special events both onsite and off that “celebrate the craft.”

During his 20-plus years at The Lodge, Jackson established a culinary program that many call farm-to-table but Crosson said boils down to using simple and local ingredients of the best quality.

“When I moved here ... San Diego’s restaurant scene was not nearly what it is today,” Jackson said. He said a few chefs were using a specific local farm, but he worked to form relationships with many local farmers and promote events in which chefs and farmers can connect “and experience each other.”

“It’s important for the chefs … to have a community of their peers,” he said.

Jackson said he “was raised during an era in the French kitchens where you had three different sauces … and three different proteins and a million things on a plate.” But at The Lodge, “I took more of an Italian mentality to my cooking in that less is more.”

“If you’ve got these killer ingredients, you don’t need to mess with them,” he said. “You enhance their intrinsic value and then you put a couple of things that accompany it.”

Jackson has garnered many awards and other accolades for himself and The Lodge, including A.R. Valentien’s designation as the No. 1 restaurant in La Jolla on TripAdvisor and The Grill at Torrey Pines regularly being named Best Hotel Casual Restaurant by the California Restaurant Association since 2007.

“After 20 years, there’s a big piece of me in this company,” Jackson said.

He said he’s most proud of “the foundation that was laid here at The Lodge and the number of people that have gone on from the kitchens here and … made a mark for themselves. I was able to influence the next generation.”

But after two decades as executive chef and with a new grandson in Iowa, it’s time to let Crosson take the lead, he said.

Crosson started at The Lodge in 2009 “at the bottom and worked her way up” with grit and determination, Jackson said. “She has made A.R. Valentien better than it’s ever been.”

“I have an amazing team and we’re all excited to take it to the next level.”

— Kelli Crosson

Crosson said Jackson’s bend toward simple, local cooking is “something that I never knew I wanted, [but] it clicked with me immediately.”

Becoming executive chef excites her, she said. “I have worked very hard. I’ve definitely earned this space to be the executive chef.”

Crosson said there will be as-yet-unfinalized changes at The Lodge, but “we’re going to stay true to what we do here. … I have an amazing team and we’re all excited to take it to the next level.”

Jackson said it has been “a very easy transition” and that he and Crosson will continue to work together, furthering “the culture [of collaboration]. ... I don’t have a huge ego.”

Crosson agreed. “There’s no ego,” she said. “We’re both excited. … We all really enjoy what he’s brought to the table.” ◆