Behind the Table: Chef Jacob Johnson


When you scroll down Chef Jacob Johnson’s Instagram feed, you’ll notice waves of icing, a rose of smoked salmon, and swirls of chocolate glaze. The same detailed style you see on Chef Jacob’s social media you’ll see on a plate at San Chez Bistro, where he serves as executive chef. 

San Chez is a Spanish-inspired tapas bistro that has been a cuisine staple in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan for more than 25 years. Chef Jacob has continued its legacy of creating unique pairings and visual experiences that delight new and old customers alike. 

“I’m going to try to make [our plates] as pleasing to the eye as possible because when you do that people enjoy the meal 10 times as much.”

Chef Jacob changes their menu, which serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, four times a year. That means he’s always researching the next plate to surprise customers, especially with ingredients that people shy away from. 

“It tends to blow people’s minds a little bit when they do try something that they’ve always had kind of a poor experience with in the past and then they get a whole new respect for it.” 

Chef Jacob says the two biggest impacts on a customer at San Chez are when they first walk in the door and when they leave their table — usually with a belly full of dessert. 

“We really do try to make [our desserts] jaw-dropping because it is the last thing someone experiences,” Chef Jacob said. “And when they leave with that fresh in their minds, they tell everybody about it.”

Whether he’s managing his staff around downtown event traffic or introducing new foods to one of his regulars, Chef Jacob is determined to continue San Chez’s legacy of creativity and quality. 

“It comes down to taking care of our staff, taking care of the guests walking in the door, knowing our community and being a part of it, and obviously listening to the food world and what they want.” 

Check out Chef Jacob’s Citrus Braised Octopus recipe.

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Chef Jacob JohnsonChef Jacob cooking in the San Chez kitchen


Chef Jacob preparing a dessert.



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