Farmer Friday: A very close farm-to-chef connection

Kane Jilek grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Salem, New York, the second oldest of four— barely. He beat his twin brother, Kurt, into the world by only 35 seconds, “not that I ever bring that up,” he says with a chuckle. The Jilek kids all have names beginning with K and all were born in January. Katie, the eldest, works for an agricultural stewardship association and Kamber, the youngest, is a nature educator.


The twins both help out on the farm, but Kane’s full-time job is as sous-chef at Longfellow’s Restaurant, Hotel and Conference Center in nearby Saratoga Springs, a town famous for its elegant summer homes, mineral spring spas and horse races.


Farming, agricultural science, and land stewardship runs in the Jilek family. #CabotFarmers Click To Tweet

“There is a huge connection between my farming and my cooking,” Kane says. As a teen, he was drawn to the idea of being a chef while watching Emeril Lagasse on TV: “He threw so much love in his food. It just blew your mind away.” It was a hard decision, he recalls, to follow a career in the food and hospitality industry rather than pursue agriculture full-time but “it felt like the right choice,” he explains. The chef particularly enjoys seeing regionally and locally produced food come into the kitchen: from eggs, to dairy, to apples and vegetables. “I’m a connecting link. I have high influence on what we buy and I love using local ingredients. I have a lot of respect for farmers because I know what they do,” Kane says. “Every time I see Cabot products come in, it’s incredible knowing that our little dairy farm had something to do with it.”

chef kane jilek

Kane maintains close ties to the farming life. He lives with his parents, Tom and Diane, just half a mile from their T-D-J Farm. “You can hear the cows every morning,” Kane says happily.  T-D-J milks 150 registered Holsteins working in partnership with Tom’s cousin, Jay Skellie, whose Hi-Brow Farms owns the farmland and does the cropping for the herd. With his father, Kane relishes the challenge of breeding top-quality cows and they purchase cows together. Their “Tomkan” red and white Holsteins are in high demand from as far away as Germany. Two days a week, Kane helps to record herd data for careful analysis in order to continually improve herd genetics.


In the Longfellow’s restaurant kitchens during the rest of the week, Kane focuses on cooking customer favorites like Kentucky Bourbon Salmon and the Bacon and Blue Filet. He mixes up huge batches of the restaurant’s from-scratch blue cheese dressing enriched with Cabot sour cream and cottage cheese, and roasts slabs of bacon in a brown sugar-Bourbon-pineapple glaze to fold into the restaurant’s signature Bourbon Bacon Mac and Cheese. It’s an outstanding mac and cheese, the chef concedes, but nothing beats his mom’s, made more simply with extra-sharp Cabot cheddar and, sometimes, a cracker crumb topping. “Every year for my birthday, I ask for her mac and cheese or her macaroni beef and tomato goulash,” Kane says. Like his professional inspiration Emeril, the secret ingredient in Mom’s cooking is surely a whole lot of love.

Cheesy Crab and Artichoke Dip

crab dip

Adapted from Chef Kane Jilek, Longfellow’s Restaurant, Saratoga Springs, New York

  • 1 (14-ounce/about 8-ounce drained dry weight) can artichoke hearts in water, drained and quartered
  • 8 ounces lump crab meat
  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 (8-ounce) bar Cabot Cream Cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon finely grated Alpine Cheddar or Parmesan, divided
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Grape tomatoes and scallions to garnish as desired

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put all ingredients except for one tablespoon Parmesan in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer just until thoroughly blended. Scrape mixture into a ramekin, top with remaining tablespoon Parmesan and bake at 425 degrees until browned and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Garnish with halved grape tomatoes and slivered scallions. Serve hot with vegetables, crackers or chips. Makes about 4 cups dip.

One of the most popular items on Longfellow’s menu is the Bacon and Blue Filet, which Sous-Chef Kane Jilek describes as a grilled steak filet set on a smoked bacon marmalade and topped with a crumble of blue cheese. At the restaurant, they pop the blue cheese-topped steak under the broiler to caramelize it.

Our recipe for bacon jam is quite similar to the smoked bacon marmalade at Longfellow’s. It works great as a condiment for grilled steak, hamburgers, pork and even chicken. It also makes a perfect grilled cheese spread and cheese plate complement.bacon jam for farmer friday

If you would like to learn more about Cabot Creamery Co-operative, our sustainability initiatives, or some of our 1,200 farm families, click here.

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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).

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