Eric and Jill Skokan are the most ambitious farm-to-table restaurateurs in America, growing most of the food for their two restaurants on 130 acres in Boulder County, Colorado. Eric, a Virginia native, got the cooking bug while working in Charlottesville kitchens as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. After graduating, Eric worked in restaurants in Washington, DC, San Francisco and mountain resorts in Colorado before moving to Boulder to take a cooking job. He met Jill at the Gold Lake Mountain Resort and Spa, where she was general manager. The couple opened Black Cat Bistro in 2006. Shortly after opening Black Cat, the couple began experimenting with gardening, growing the garnishes for their restaurant’s dishes. The small-scale, backyard gardening soon became a passion, expanding from a plot in the yard to an acre of vegetables to the current operation, which grows 250 varieties of vegetables, grains and legumes and raises sheep, heritage pigs, chickens, geese and more on more than 400 acres. While Eric tends to focus on the fields, Jill works more closely with the livestock.
In 2012 the Skokans opened Bramble & Hare, located next door to Black Cat Bistro. Bramble & Hare is a convivial restaurant with a lively bar and a charming farmhouse decor. Like Black Cat Bistro, the restaurant draws inspiration from the fields. The menus at both restaurants change every night, truly reflecting seasonality like few other restaurants in America.
As farm-to-table restaurateurs in Colorado, the Skokans have spent a lot of time figuring out what grows well (and what does not) in Boulder, Colorado, where winter temperatures can dip to -20 degrees, where the soil does not always cooperate and where drought always threatens. Now, they grow everything from tomatoes to a wide variety of Asian greens to cardoons, lentils, black chickpeas, farro, corn for polenta, quinoa, cabbage, turnips, Styrian pumpkins, cilantro and much more. They are even growing buckwheat now to mill into flour suitable for making soba noodles.
The long winters forced the Skokans to experiment with preservation techniques, including canning (the restaurant makes gallons upon gallons of tomato sauce every fall), drying, freezing and fermenting. Among other things, the restaurant team makes its own charcuterie for the restaurant, curing pig bellies and legs, lamb shanks and more.
Eric works closely with August Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder, which every year sends students to learn about farm-to-table techniques on Black Cat Farm. In 2014, Kyle Books published Eric’s book “Farm Fork Food: A Year of Spectacular Recipes Inspired by Black Cat Farm.” The book was named a finalist for best American cookbook of the year (one of three finalists) by the prestigious International Association of Culinary Professionals annual book awards.
In 2017, Eric was a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award.
Eric and Jill live on three acres in a farmhouse in Boulder County with their four children and a whole lot of animals.