Julia Jakšić, 33, is an executive chef at Employees Only, a hip cocktail bar and restaurant in New York City’s West Village. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, her upbringing isn’t like that of most big-city chefs.
Her dad, Mico Jakšić, is the owner of a deer and game processing business in West Allis called Domines Deer Processing. He also does spit roasting on the side.
“Growing up, I was exposed to whole animals, and everything was homemade,” Julia said in a phone interview. “We ate pig ears and cheeks.”
Julia’s grandmother was a major culinary influence on her. “She used to make strudel and pull the dough over the table super-thin, and I had to cut the dough.”
Born in a small town in Croatia, Mico learned everything from his mom. “She was an old-generation cook, never had a recipe,” he recalled. “We still make homemade sausages, bacon and pork loin, smoke it like the old country used to do.
“When Julia told me she wanted to cook, I was hesitant, but she was old enough to make her own choice,” Mico said. “But I am happy she is keeping the tradition going. She is very successful now and quite the cook. It’s amazing, the stuff she remembered from my mom.”
Julia received her training at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute in Chicago. “Although I appreciate fine dining, I knew it wasn’t for me,” Julia said. “The way I was raised with my father’s culture, that’s what transplanted me into cooking.”
Growing up, Julia’s favorite dishes were venison goulash, braised pork ribs with homemade sauerkraut and pickled stuffed cabbage with pork and rice.
Julia describes Employees Only as having an old, rustic approach to food and beverages but refining it for New York palates.
“Right now I’m doing a bison short rib with pickled cabbage and polenta,” she said. “I pull a lot of menu ideas from what I grew up with.”