From grade school on, Jill Grube knew she wanted to be a chef, and after years spent honing her skills at celebrated restaurants, she came back home to Peoria to helm her own restaurant, Jill’s on Galena.

“I was 8 years old when my restaurant dream began,” she said. “I would help in the kitchen and read lots of cookbooks. My influence came from seeing the smiles of people whenever they were eating. I associated happiness with cooking.”

Never losing sight of her dream, Grube graduated from Purdue University and then the New England Culinary School. She went to work at The Catered Affair in Boston and the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui before becoming executive chef at the exclusive Red Jacket Beach in Cape Cod. She also lent her skills to L’Espalier in Boston, one of the top French restaurants in the country. “The East Coast was amazing,” she said. “I really learned so much in all aspects of the restaurant industry. I worked in all kinds of restaurants to prepare me for what I’m doing now. I always felt you had to experience different cuisines to truly understand food.”

After living and working in grand locales, Grube never hesitated to come back to Peoria to share with the community what she’d learned. “I’ve traveled to many places, experienced many cultures and cuisines, and wanted to bring it home,” she said.

Grube said her food philosophy is all about fresh and made to order. “I think it’s something special when a restaurant makes its own desserts and soups. I feel using the freshest of ingredients adds to the quality of the end product. I really enjoy the restaurant’s herb-crusted halibut and also the pan-seared scallops. Both of these dishes burst with flavor and texture but don’t mask the freshness of the seafood.”

Some of the other elegant menu items include pan seared duck with roasted sweet potatoes, honey-port sauce, and duck confit wontons; a grilled rack of lamb with roasted root vegetables and rosemary jus; and a grilled herb-marinated filet of beef with blue cheese mashed potatoes and peppercorn hollandaise. And then there are the desserts, such as chocolate molten cake and a cheesecake sampler.

Grube said she opened Jill’s on Galena to fulfill her dream of giving each customer a great dining experience. “Great food and a fantastic wine list complemented by great service is what we want to achieve each and every night.”

And does she think an upscale restaurant like hers will play in Peoria over the long haul? “Oh, most definitely. Jill’s on Galena is unique and special. And this community has sophisticated tastes, wants, and needs that pair nicely with Jill’s,” she said.

Apparently, others agree with her assessment. Jill’s on Galena recently received the 2005 Best of the Midwest Award for Upscale Dining from the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association.

Though she’s surrounded by good food every day, Grube said picking her personal favorite is a tough task. “I’ve experienced so many great tastes in my journeys, and to choose one food would be difficult. I would say blue cheese—actually all cheese—foie gras, duck, lamb, and carrot cake top my list.”

Not that any of that would be found at her home. “The most surprising thing people find out about chefs is that we don’t cook gourmet meals for ourselves,” she said. “My fridge is very bare because I spend most of my time in the restaurant.” a&s