As the Executive Chef and Owner of the Michelin-starred Esmé in Chicago, Jenner Tomaska oversees the culinary vision for the restaurant, conceptualized alongside wife and partner Katrina Bravo to reimagine the fine dining experience.
Tomaska grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago, and began his professional culinary career at age 14 as a cook and dishwasher at a local restaurant. He furthered his education at Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island, graduating with degrees in both Culinary Arts and Food Service Management. After graduation, Tomaska worked in Hilton Head, South Carolina before returning to Chicago to explore the fine dining scene, eventually working as a tournant at mk The Restaurant under chefs Michael Kornick and Erick Williams.
After two years at mk, Tomaska joined the team at Next Restaurant, where he was quickly promoted to Sous Chef and, subsequently, Chef de Cuisine in May 2015. In April 2016, Tomaska was named Executive Chef, reporting directly to chef Grant Achatz. In his role, Tomaska spearheaded the execution of Next’s quarterly concepts, where everything from the cuisine, plateware, and service was transformed. Jenner’s tenure included 21 of the 23 menu transitions at Next, yielding 18 four-star Chicago Tribune reviews and three, three-star Chicago Tribune reviews, as well as two James Beard Rising Star Chef nominations for Tomaska in 2016 and 2017.
Since leaving Next in 2018, Tomaska continued to find inspiration within his hometown’s culinary scene as he and Bravo planned for the opening of Esmé. In addition to supporting mentor Erick Williams with the opening of Hyde Park’s Virtue, Tomaska enjoyed a pop-up at Elizabeth during the summer 2019, subbing for Chef Iliana Regan. Tomaska credits Williams for instilling the importance of mission-driven values within a restaurant’s framework, a model that has informed the direction for Esmé while also inspiring Tomaska’s involvement with charitable events such as Ask Chef’s Anything.
With the opening of Esmé in summer 2021 — his and Bravo’s first solo venture — Tomaska’s nearly 20-year career reaches an apex moment. Esmé’s twelve-course tasting menu evolves seasonally while showcasing inspiration from Chicago’s vibrant creative culture, revealing Tomaska’s journey as a chef, as well as his commitment to the evolution of fine dining. Throughout the year, Tomaska and Bravo will curate collaboration dinners with local artists, creatives and luminaries with a portion of proceeds supporting the individual’s philanthropic endeavors or projects.
Awards & Press
- James Beard Award
- Michelin 1 Star