Best New Chef Jay Blackinton’s Path from Veganism to Game Hunting

The Pacific Northwest chef embodies a snout-to-tail approach at his Orcas Island restaurants, where almost every ingredient is sourced from a stone’s throw away.

A lot has changed since Jay Blackinton decided to be a vegan. Born and raised in the lush Pacific Northwest, he says that he chose a life of veganism at a young age. “That’s when I really started learning how to cook” he says, “because no one would cook for me.”

That same scrappiness and mindfulness informs every aspect of the operations at Hogstone’s Wood Oven and the forthcoming Ælder in Orcas Island, WA, where Blackinton is the chef-owner, butcher and resident farmer. But Blackinton isn’t a vegan anymore—far from it.

“One day, I decided I was done with this vegan thing,” says the chef, laughing. “I really wanted to start eating meat again, but to feel good about it, I needed to know how to do the deed myself.” Before opening Hogstone’s in 2013, Blackinton learned how to hunt and raise animals for food, mastering best practices for slaughtering and butchering that he now relies on almost daily.

Jordana Rothman, Food & Wine Restaurant Editor, admits that “a lot of people talk about this notion of farm to table.” But this isn’t a gimmick—for her, “Jay Blackinton is taking it to its most ambitious extreme.”

Blackinton sources most of his food from the island, and most of that from the restaurant’s proprietary farm. To describe his food philosophy, he cites “this idea that right here, right now, what’s happening—we can build a meal from this.” Nilou Motamed, Food & Wine’s Editor in Chief, sums it up nicely: “If it doesn’t grow in Orcas Island, Jay’s not interested in it.”

All this makes for food that is fresh, dynamic and meaningful—and based around a deeply rooted sense of place. For Rothman, it’s clear that Blackington tries to “honor every single ingredient, whether it was a pig that he was slaughtering for pork or if it was a leaf of kale that he was growing.”

For more on our latest class of BNCs, check out the rest of the Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2017.

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