For some chefs, cooking is not only in their heart – it’s in their blood. Such is the case with Jon Burwell, the leader of the kitchen of his family’s business, Prospect Street’s venerable Crab Catcher restaurant.
Though his affections have been and remain with Crab Catcher, Burwell did not receive his entire culinary education in the kitchen he now commands. In order to expand his knowledge and be the best he could be, he set out to learn and practice his trade, staying close to home while venturing into new arenas.
“At 14 I started doing prep work at Crab Catcher, learning and working all aspects of the restaurant. At 18, I went to the Chart House and worked there for two years. At 21, I became a chef at Sushi On The Rock. (Two years later) I returned to Crab Catcher, where I worked for six years participating in private catering, learning and training under many acclimated chefs,” he said.
Having lived and worked in La Jolla his entire life, Burwell enjoys being a veteran member of his hometown’s dining scene, which he said offers something for everybody, especially on the main drag. “With lots of talented chefs on Prospect Street, there is good food and fare to be had,” he said.
And, Burwell said, “All the chefs in La Jolla showcase camaraderie. [They] all have admiration for each others’ crafts, success and work ethic. We work together and even borrow milk or eggs when we are in a bind.”
When talking about his La Jolla contemporaries, Burwell pointed out one chef, In particular. “I admire and respect the vision and cuisine of Chef Bernard Guillas of the Marine Room. He has been a chef there for many years and that is commendable in this business,” he said.
The ingredients of La Jolla are second to none, said Burwell. “Between the local spiny lobster, yellowtail, halibut, white sea bass and spot prawns, they are what makes La Jolla a mecca for wonderful seafood. And they are all prepared fresh here daily.”
Several ocean fresh shellfish find their way into Burwell’s favorite of his dishes, the Hawaiian-style bouillabaisse cioppino. “The flavor of the Australian prawns, king crab and lemongrass lobster broth is unforgettable.”
Non-seafood ingredients Burwell enjoys incorporating into his recipes, both at the restaurant and on the home front, include saffron, ginger, wild ramps, Meyer lemons, green garlic and Hawaiian sea salt, all of which lend themselves in a subtly complimentary manner to quality seafood.
There is no doubt this passionate chef intends to pursue his kitchen duties and interests with the same level of soulful dedication. After all, it’s in his genes. “This is a family-owned restaurant that has been here for 28 years. My father, Jerry, my mother, Jeani, and my brother, Justin, can be seen anytime here from the front to the back of the house. We are passionate about what we do and who we serve,” he said.
Crab Catcher is located at 1298 Prospect St., Suite #3A. For reservations, call (858) 454-9587 or visit
Brandon Hernández can be reached via e-mail at de
Who has inspired the style of cooking you gravitate toward?
Alan Wong and Ming Tsai, who are the founders of Pacific Rim [cuisine] with East and West influences. But, as an artist, I always add my own touch to reinvent.
What are some of the original dishes you have developed that you are most proud of and why?
I love our Ahi Napoleon. It is a classic. Also, my relationship with the fisherman and boat captains of the “Deadliest Catch” TV show (Discovery Channel) has led to (Crab Catcher having) the best Red King Crab legs in La Jolla, which my family and I are very proud of.
What are some of your favorite restaurants to dine at in San Diego?
Crab Catcher, Morton’s and all local Mexican taco shops!
What do you consider your best day as a chef to date?
Valentine’s Day 2008. We did over 575 dinners, and it was as smooth as it can get.
What are some of your non-culinary interests?
Surfing, fishing and diving have always been a part of my life. I will pursue all these hobbies until I die.
If it were your last meal, what would you choose to eat, where, with whom and who would prepare the meal?
Alaskan King Crab, Peking duck, luau pig and local spiny lobster sitting at my family’s house in Kauai with all the family and special friends. The six brothers – Rob, Jason, Jeremy, Justin, Ryan and myself – would prepare the meal. It would be perfect.