Amid constant change and upheaval, work-life balance has taken a back seat to hustle, drive, and commitment as those in the culinary industry keep their heads down to stay afloat in challenging times. Slowly, many have made a conscious decision to step off the roller coaster and home in on what matters to them on a personal level.
Chef Seth Jonas has been in the hospitality business for the entirety of his working life. Trained at Colorado Mountain College, an apprenticeship program serving the resort industry, the instinctive cook gained a wide range of experience working with unique concepts under the tutelage of various chefs.
Jonas credits his time at Inn Harms Way, a Lincoln, Nebraska family-owned eatery specializing in steak and seafood, with setting the tone for his approach to the sometimes-volatile industry. Since then, Jonas has diversified his experience portfolio through myriad kitchen positions, menu development, and managing large special events and banquets (including presenting tasting menus to clients).
“I love food and always enjoyed being in kitchens and cooking,” said Jonas, but the unique challenges of the pandemic and ever-changing industry trends set him on a less traditional path with a smaller scope. In August 2021, Conscious Kitchen was born.
The new business strives to delight, educate, and nourish clients through corporate event catering, elegant in-home private dining experiences, and full-service weekly meal prep. Meal prep is done in client homes, as is in-home private dining, and when larger quantities are needed for catering jobs, Jonas works out of shared kitchen space at the nonprofit entity No More Empty Pots.
As an entrepreneur, Jonas also relies on the unique environment at Center Sphere, a collaborative networking organization that offers a variety of business opportunities. He said, “Not having a brick and mortar, the connections at Center Sphere enable me to meet like-minded, entrepreneurial individuals experiencing similar challenges.”
The company name is a natural extension of Jonas’s desire to find balance in his own life through nutrition. Extended shifts on the line are physically and mentally challenging, and the work wasn’t providing the motivation he needed to fuel his body and mind properly. “At one point it was like a lightbulb had gone off—part of being conscious is how you eat and how it makes you feel.”
Exploring more plant-based options inspires Jonas to broaden his repertoire. Experimenting with ingredients such as farro, chickpeas, nondairy milk, or coaxing flavor out of ingredients with smaller amounts or different types of fat have led to earthy, satisfying plant-based meals that appeal to even the most ardent meat-eater. An indoor garden of fresh herbs and microgreens provide freshness, pops of color, and nutrients to gorgeous dishes.
Conscious Kitchen strives to serve organic, whole foods in unique, delicious ways, creating dishes that are flavorful but not soaked in butter or fat. Jonas shared, “There are a growing number of people in the area looking for healthier options, so we bring our knowledge of food to the table and curate food that is healthier for the body yet pleasing and enjoyable to eat.”
Working on a smaller scale enables the culinary expert to shop locally and take the necessary time to find just the right ingredients, “As a chef, you know where to find the best ingredients in town, so I shop where quality is best. Collaborating with local vendors and farms aligns with our goal of sourcing local, organic, sustainable products.” Raikes Beef is a favorite and the meticulous chef is proud to feature the local company’s products in menu items such as the Raikes beef filet with sun-dried tomato and mushroom risotto. In addition, Conscious Kitchen works with a program at No More Empty Pots that connects to local vendors to source nearby produce.
Suggested menu items such as jalapeño ponzu tuna nachos, fresh pasta, and garlic shrimp provide a starting point, but Jonas finds joy in opening a client to a new experience, especially if it feeds his insatiable curiosity for research and recipe development. “It’s difficult to create something new that hasn’t been done, but reconstructing dishes and presenting flavors in surprising ways can breathe new life into the dining experience.”
Jonas is fully present from the initial client conversation to the final plating touches, ensuring the customer experience is stellar from start to finish. He is grateful for the support and partnership of his wife, Lindsay, who works behind the scenes to manage clients, keep social media posts fresh, and photograph the artfully plated dishes.
The small company size affords flexibility in scheduling, but Jonas recommends clients should book at least 2 weeks in advance of an event. Whether you’re planning to host a private dinner party, family celebration, corporate event, or need help with healthy weekly meals, Conscious Kitchen can provide a thoughtful, personalized experience.