FRESNO — “Pork is a versatile cut of meat and easy to prepare, says Fresno’s award-winning chef Jon Koobation, a retired restaurateur and author. Jon grew up in the farming town of Dinuba, California, the eldest of four children to Ed and Mary Koobation. His parents gave each of their children abiding love and instilled in them at an early age a sense of responsibility and a solid work ethic. Jon is the former chef/proprietor, owner and head chef at the acclaimed Jon’s Bear Club in Reedley, Calif. for several decades until his retirement in 2013.*
Jon’s Roasted Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach, Jalapenos and Blue Cheese is featured in Cooking With Jon, his engaging cookbook published in 2017. “My cookbook is the child I never had; that is, it is warm, cold, sweet, spicy and savory, but most importantly, shared with love,” he says. Cooking With Jon is a tribute to his extraordinary culinary history, and includes many of his signature recipes along with family photos, memories and recollections about his life, career, and growing up with devoted Armenian parents and grandparents. He shares family traditions and his love for great food for readers to enjoy.
One interviewer of Jon’s cookbook says, “I fondly remember eating traditional Armenian cuisine at Jon’s parent’s home in Dinuba. Jon inherited the love of cooking from his mother and grandmother. I was thrilled when I learned that Jon had published a cookbook. My husband and I recently hosted an Armenian dinner party which featured Jon’s shish kebab and rice pilaf. The lamb was moist and very flavorful and the rice pilaf had a rich flavor due to the Swanson’s chicken broth and butter. If you make these recipes, follow Jon’s directions and do not substitute with other ingredients. I had always used a robust red wine to marinate the lamb, but Jon’s recommendation to use cream sherry gave the meat a much smoother and rich flavor. The layout of the cookbook is beautiful, and a delight to work from, and I look forward to trying many more of his recipes.”
The Bear Club has been around since 1935, when it began as a small bar, serving mostly farmers and farm laborers behind a grocery store. As a young man, Jon first worked as a prep cook and sous chef at major Lake Tahoe-area restaurants before returning to Reedley. He worked at the famous Vallis’ Restaurant in Kingsburg, the Redwood Inn of Sultana, Dinuba Ranch, and at the Swedish Mill in Kingsburg. In 1973, he applied to The Culinary Institute of America, but he enrolled too late for the fall semester. He accepted a position as a chef at The Bear Club that same year. In 1985, he became the owner until his retirement.
Through the 1970s and mid-1980s, Jon’s restaurant established itself as a fine steakhouse featuring outstanding food and friendly customer service. “Using the freshest ingredients available each season was valued and expected by our guests, and one of the reasons they chose to return again and again for this sensational pork recipe,” he adds.
“The recipe was created for the Women In Ag symposium at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California,” says Jon. “After the demonstration we would serve sample tastings to 150-200 attendees. I conducted demonstrations for the World Ag Expo for 27 years. It was a lot of fun and an opportunity to get out of the kitchen and do some PR. I was originally introduced to the Women In Ag Expo by Greg and David Vartanian (from The Vintage Press Restaurant in Visalia), who were the original presenters.”