He’s tall, lanky and attractive, with a quick smile and garrulous wit … and he cooks!
David Jackson, 63, was born in East Los Angeles and raised there with his two sisters until his sophomore year in high school, when his dad was transferred, and the family moved to Toronto.
Jackson started cooking along with his grandmother when he was about 3. “I had a Swedish grandma,” he says, “and learned to cook all kinds of wonderful Swedish dishes. I started working as a cook at about 16, while I was still in high school in Toronto, in the kitchen at a nice hotel.
“Then I went to a fly-fishing camp near the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. I was hired as the dishwasher and kitchen assistant; however, the lead cook was a 25-year-old clown who didn’t even know how to make icebox cookies; he thought you just made the dough, wrapped it in wax paper, refrigerated, sliced and served. He didn’t know you had to bake them! That’s when I took over the camp cook duties to the great relief of the camp staff and guests.
“I never attended traditional professional cooking schools. I went to the School of Hard Knocks. Working under head chefs in lots of restaurants, I learned all the elements you get in a year of formal training: sauces, baking, mise en place (getting everything organized and ready), butchery, seasonings—all the basics. I did go to Mesa College for a while, taking only the classes I wanted in hotel and restaurant administration, but that was it.”
Jackson’s cooking career includes a stint at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and many other high-end kitchens where he honed his craft. He can drop lots of famous names.
Jackson’s dad had moved the family to San Diego, where his father had a construction and sign business. “He was a sign-hanger,” he says. “He had hung most of the neon around Los Angeles in the late 1950s and 1960s. He even worked on the Hollywood sign!
“After cooking in the San Diego area for about eight years,” says Jackson, “I realized I didn’t want the headaches of my own restaurant, so I started working side by side with my dad in the family business for a while.
“I also had become a fishing freak; I would cast a line into a rain puddle! As a young man, I would bring a camera with me when I went on fishing trips, and I began writing articles which got published in national magazines. All of a sudden, I was a freelance photo-journalist.”
Jackson’s family roots in the high desert go back to his grand-aunt and grand-uncle who bought property in 1947 through the Homestead Act. His grandparents and parents also bought in the high desert, and Jackson has acquired additional high desert property; he currently resides there.
“I’ve built three homes by hand,” he says, “and any home-builder who is self-motivated can do it all—carpentry, glazing, everything. You do need a good plumber and an electrician. There’s a story about Spencer Tracy, where he was once on the red carpet about to be interviewed by famed Hollywood columnist Army Archerd. Army asked Tracy about the importance of the star-studded night. Tracy responded, ‘Tonight’s not important. You want to know what’s important? Plumbing.’ I’ve never forgotten that!”
Jackson started playing with the idea of doing a cooking show in the early 1980s. “I was interested in television chefs like Julia Child and Graham Kerr, ‘The Galloping Gourmet.’ I had done some news segments for KESQ-TV in the low desert called ‘Food for Thought.’
“Then, in 1985, I connected with a new hospital satellite network in Los Angeles, one of the first of its kind, designed specifically for doctors and hospitals to further medical information and training. People could watch it in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I did 13 segments of Healthy Lifestyle with co-hosts Bruce Jenner and Jean Carroll. I was the cook and segment host. There weren’t many cooking shows back then, and I had to pay for it all myself, plus pay for the broadcast time. I hoped it would generate a PBS show. I had gotten on TV, but it was not to be, so I shifted back to the family business.”
Jackson’s hope has now materialized—and he has a successful PBS show. Food Over 50 is based on the fact that once people hit middle age, their eating habits need to change along with their changing bodies.
“It’s the time when doctors see blood pressure going up,” he says. “It’s time to start watching salt intake, to start exercising; it’s the age when it’s important to monitor and maintain our health. I’m not a doctor or a dietitian, so I’ve teamed up with Elizabeth Kelsey, who was chief dietician at Eisenhower Medical Center for over 25 years, and who designed the nutrition program for the Betty Ford Center. Every recipe I use is cleared through her, and she does commentary on camera for the show.
“Back in the 1980s, we knew about things like sodium and cholesterol, but people weren’t really listening much. Now there’s much more information available, and people are paying attention. Right now, it’s just me and my director/cameraman in a small space I’ve set up. But PBS has a wonderful system of conventions for programmers, and I got what’s known as a presenting station, WKAR, in East Lansing, Mich. There are 354 licensed stations within the PBS network, and we’re on 290 of them. That’s 82 perecnt of television households in the country!”
Jackson intends to continue featuring the low and high deserts on Food Over 50, with segments on everything from local fresh food markets to working with dementia-related groups to help caregivers learn how to facilitate healthy eating. “I’ve been caring for my mother, and I’ve learned that you have to slow everything down. People eat with sight and smell, but those with illnesses like dementia have limited sensory capability,” he says. “Food must be more flavorful and nutritious. You have to give them time to smell the food and stimulate their appetites. Good nutrition can make a difference, even with physical issues. You also need to be aware of your own physicality and be gentle, like with a young child. You need patience and endurance. ”
Jackson hopes to expand the reach of Food Over 50, and engage in what he calls culinary travel—finding the healthiest and best of every culture’s cuisine. He also intends to “keep teaching fish a lesson, but never catching more than I can eat.”
David Jackson’s patience and endurance is finally paying off.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.