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Talking Salt with chef Jill Vedaa and sommelier Jessica Parkison

Chef Jill Vedaa and Sommelier Jessica Parkison


Salt, which is unearthed from mines and evaporated from mineral springs and the sea, takes time to form and doesn’t come easy. The same is true of the journey that led chef Jill Vedaa and sommelier Jessica Parkison to become cofounders of Salt, which is slated to open in Lakewood at 17621 Detroit Ave. this June. The two met a few years ago when Jill Vedaa sauntered into Humble Wine Bar, where Parkison was manager, and ordered a flute of rosé.
 
At the time, Vedaa was earning media praise as executive chef of Cleveland Heights’ Rockefeller's restaurant, which was shuttered last May, while Parkison masterfully juggled her front-of-the-house career with the demands of her family with six kids.
 
“My dad was a chef, so if you wanted to spend time with him, you did it in his kitchen,” says Parkison. She spent the latter half of high school in the West Shore Career-Technical District at Lakewood High School immersed in the culinary program. Upon graduation, she was poised to follow in her father’s footsteps with a scholarship to Johnson and Wales University when fate intervened. Parkison shelved her college plans when she discovered she was expecting a child. Waiting tables led to more than a decade of management jobs before a trip to Napa ignited an interest in wine and inspired her to earn a level-one sommelier designation.
 
In the meantime, Vedaa was about to further develop her flair for painting and drawing at the Cleveland Institute of Art when she had a change of heart. Pint-size for the profession at 5’ 6” and 19 years old, she took a job as a bar back in Tremont in 1992, eons before it was solidified as a top dining destination. In three years’ time, she’d had three different jobs. Savoring Spanish food at KeKa on her day off, opportunity knocked when the owner Mark Shary approached her with a job proposition. He was short-staffed; she was an inexperienced, albeit eager, apprentice.
 
Under the tutelage of Shary, and then Michael Symon and Karen Small, Vedaa proved a natural in the profession but confesses opportunity preceded her passion.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” is her unpretentious explanation for what lured her into the business as a teen and the secret to maintaining her longevity over a 20-year span in the service industry.
 
As friends and colleagues, Vedaa and Parkison shared a common yearning for autonomy. With Rockefeller’s closing and a vacancy in a prime spot near the popular Beck Center they began realizing their dream of owning a restaurant about a year ago. “Everything has just fallen into place perfectly,” says Parkison
 
Work started on the 2,700-square-foot space in February, where Chris Pocus of McGrann Construction is the contractor. The space includes a 10-seat bar, 25-seat lounge and tables for 40. Kitchen hours are tentatively slated for 4 to 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. on Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Salt will employ 25.
 
A storefront grant from the City of Lakewood will help fund exterior signage for the restaurant, the balance of the project is privately funded by the co-owners and a throng of supportive colleagues and friends.
 
Every chef knows that a heavy hand with salt can ruin its magic. Nonetheless, when asked what the most under-appreciated ingredient in the kitchen is, the two reply in unison: “Salt!” but insist the name was chosen more for memorability than to foreshadow a sodium-laden menu. Expect an assortment of expertly-seasoned small plates and Spanish-style tapas crafted by Vedaa complemented by a seasonal craft cocktail menu developed by Parkison and an international wine list with selections from Chile, Portugal and Spain.
 
The “magic” is as much about the ambiance as it is the appetizers and aperitifs. Rustic and romance are intertwined in Salt’s dining room and lounge against the backdrop of an exposed brick wall. Without the distraction of WiFi or TV, you’ll discover a respite that harkens back to an era before electronics that will foster connection and conversation sprinkled with Vedaa’s favorite ingredient: fun.
 
Ever out of the box, Vedaa is adamant she doesn’t want to “get painted into a culinary corner ... Salt is more about a way of eating and dining and less about a specific cuisine,” she says.
 
“I’m focused on creating amazing food inspired by dishes I love, with many different ethnic influences.”
 
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