By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany news bureau
COVINGTON – It was probably easy for Gavin Jobe’s parents to know what career path he was heading down when they saw him practically obsessed at the age of five with watching Julia Child’s cooking show, “Great Chefs of the World.”
“From the time I was very young I told everyone I was going to be a chef,” said Jobe, co-owner of Meribo restaurant in Covington. “I was fascinated with foods—all kinds and especially the unusual kinds. I remember wanting to know all about persimmons since it was a strange fruit. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge about foods.”
Perhaps the 300 books about cooking and foods that line the shelves of his personal library at home might be another giveaway that Jobe is not only a great chef, but is constantly trying to learn more through education.
That talent as a special chef was recognized by national TV celebrity Alton Brown and his staff, who selected Jobe as one of 16 contestants for the current Food Network competition, “Chopped/Alton’s Challenge.” Jobe won his first round of the contest in October against three other chefs in the show that will pay the winner $50,000. He returns to the national spotlight next Tuesday against three chefs who also won their first round match.
Jobe grew up in Opelousas with a father who was an industrial salesman and a mother “who really did not enjoy cooking,” he said with a laugh. “Seriously, we ate a lot of rice and gravy.”
Jobe said he remembers his first cooking lesson at the age of five.
“For some reason I was obsessed with eating eggs and I had to have them every day. During the week my parents were both up early to go to work so my mom cooked my eggs, but on weekends they wanted to sleep late so I had to wait to get them,” he said.
His father, apparently trying to get his young aspiring chef to let him sleep later, finally addressed the situation.
“One day we went to the store and my dad bought five dozen eggs. We came home and he showed me how to cook them every way possible, and showed me how to be careful with the stove. We ate all kinds of eggs—even the dog got to eat them, but from that day forward they let me cook my own eggs,” he added.
He learned some early cooking lessons from “Granny,” who had a garden and always picked fresh vegetables to use in her meals.
“She showed me how to cook from the farm to the table,” he recalled. “And she used cheaper meats like turkey necks or the entire chicken. I was a chubby kid and I loved to eat, especially all the great food where Cajuns lived.”
As a 13-year-old the family finally got cable TV and he began watching Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” show that was one of his early successes on the Food Network. Brown is now one of their featured stars on the network with several different food and cooking shows.
“By the time I was in high school my mom was happy to let me cook dinner three or four times a week. I gave her the grocery list and she brought home what I wanted,” he said. “I’m a perfectionist and I wanted to do things just right.”
He remembers buying his first key piece of equipment for the kitchen when he was 17—a $170 knife.
“It’s the most important thing a chef has,” he said. “The day I got it I went out and bought $30 worth of vegetables and spent the afternoon practicing all the different knife skills on them.”
For his birthday he would ask his parents to take him to New Orleans restaurants so he could see high-end meals displayed—Jobe said he still tries to educate himself more-and-more through shows on TV, reading books or seeing others work.
“When I watched Alton Brown’s show I had a notepad and would write down anything I learned about techniques to cook,” he said.
Finishing high school he knew he wanted to go to culinary school, but the best ones cost $90,000 in tuition. Even though he had numerous academic college scholarship offers after making a 34 on his ACT, he went to LSU and studied marketing and international studies. He knew he could learn more about the restaurant business if he began working as a server in a restaurant, so he took his first job at Sullivan’s in Baton Rouge.
“I wanted to be a server to learn about the front end of the restaurant,” Jobe said. “But I didn’t make a lot of friends in the kitchen since I was a know-it-all. The chefs didn’t like me since I wanted everything to look perfect when I took it out.”
Eventually he was given a job as a line cook and was later promoted to the head of wines when a new general manager took over.
“I wanted to work in every position so I could learn the business, and the wine manager job taught me a lot,” he said. “And in restaurants, wine sales are where you can do very well.”
His family had invested in the Pelican House restaurant in Baton Rouge, but their partners admitted to Jobe’s parents in 2015 that they had mismanaged the money and owed thousands in back taxes. They asked for help to get out of the hole, but insisted they wanted Jobe to come on board to help them.
“They really needed me to save the Pelican House. It was making money, but they didn’t manage the money well so I took over in January, 2015 and within one year we were in the black and had paid the taxes,” he said. “I fixed the food costs and shrunk the menu and started booking more parties. It was a lot of work, but we got it on track.”
In February of 2016, Jobe said he and his business partner Vinnie LeDonne decided to expand with their own restaurant in Covington—Meribo–which is an Italian word that means “Southern Food.” They opened the doors in June of 2016 and “had a crazy, busy day. We did 250 pizzas that day and things are still going very well, although thankfully we’re not that swamped like the opening.”
“A lot of people were surprised that we opened a restaurant with a pizza, Italian concept, but it has been great and we are doing well, not to mention the Pelican House is still doing well too. I’m probably busier than I thought I would be.
Meribo features a wood-fired oven for its pizzas and has some interesting items that would be called “different,” such as the Octopus Black-Eyed Pea salad, Crispy Brussel Sprouts, Acorn Squash Risotto, Squid Ink Tagliatelle and Crispy Chicken Livers, just to name a few. They serve an item called “Oh You Fancy Whatever Chef is Feelin’” where he will cook seasonal fish or “Off the Butcher Block” meat of the day.
The restaurant is located at 326 N. Lee Lane.