Food & Drink

Out of the Box: Chef Jay Swift Still Craves This School Lunch Staple

The Atlanta chef on his lifelong love affair with Jif

photo: Erik Meadows Photography

Jay Swift.

As executive chef of contemporary hot spot Two Urban Licks and founder of the now-defunct fine-dining destination 4th & Swift, Jay Swift brings thirty years of culinary experience to discerning Atlantans’ tables. But before that, he was just another picky kid toting PB&J sandwiches to the cafeteria. 

“I was a very finicky eater until near adulthood,” he admits. But he did have some standards: “I always kept the crust. The crust is part of the bread. I always laughed at the other kids whose mothers cut the crust off for them.”

More important, Swift was—and still is—loyal to one kind of peanut butter. “Jif is my favorite brand,” he says. “Maybe because it’s a little sweet.” 

Along with Skippy and Peter Pan, Jif is one of the “big three” peanut butter brands that, fascinatingly, all trace their roots to Lexington, Kentucky. In 1922, a native Lexingtonian named Joseph Rosefield patented the partial hydrogenation process that would birth Peter Pan, and he launched his own brand, Skippy, soon after. In 1946, Lexington entrepreneur William T. Young founded another peanut butter brand, Big Top, which Procter & Gamble acquired twelve years later and reformulated into Jif. Though it’s now owned by the J.M. Smucker Company, Jif still produces its peanut butter in Lexington today.

If health wasn’t a concern, Swift says he’d still be eating Jif with Welch’s Concord Grape Jelly on Wonder Bread, perhaps with some Utz potato chips on the side. Instead, he makes the peanut butter his go-to late-night snack. “I eat it straight out of the jar with a tablespoon and a glass of 2 percent milk,” he says, noting his tendency to double dip. “I take a couple of spoonfuls to settle my stomach right before bed.”

And because choosy chefs choose Jif, he also combines it with garlic, ginger, sesame oil, lime juice, and cilantro to make a Thai peanut sauce to top chicken or beef skewers. Back at Two Urban Licks, he serves it in the tempura-fried, peanut-butter-and-banana-stuffed french toast topped with bacon maple syrup, appropriately named the Fat Elvis.