This is part two of our interview with Brian Peterson, executive chef and part owner of Cork in Chandler. Today we get the story on how this former Chicago guy learned to love living in the Valley and what he still thinks the Phoenix food scene is missing. If you missed part one, in which he talked about how the restaurant has changed since it opened, you can read it here.
When you consider that this shy Chicago-born chef's interest in food began with dreams of "slinging hot dogs" off a cart on a California beach, it's pretty ironic that he's made himself known for his creativity with one of the most notoriously fancy foods, foie gras.
Now, that hot dog dream dates back to when Peterson was about 5 years old, so we'll cut him some slack. Nevertheless, he says he knew he always wanted to be in the kitchen and spent a lot of his childhood learning the basics from his grandmother.
He's been quoted at least a half dozen times before calling his mother a "bad cook," so we had to ask if she's ever been offended about it.
"No," he says seriously, explaining that his mother lost her sense of smell as a child and therefore had a hard time in the kitchen.
In high school, Peterson tells us he spent a lot of time working around the food business, but never in the back of the house. He's been in food distribution, sales and the like. His first job, he recalls, was as a valet at Maggiano's, where he talked his was into the kitchen to pick the mind of the chef.
After Peterson earned his food and beverage management degree in Chicago, his parents moved to the Valley -- to Ahwatukee, to be exact. And they gave him a choice, go it alone in the big city, or join them. Like many smart young adults, he chose the latter and ended up in the Phoenix suburbs.
He hated it. The bars closed too early and there weren't any good, local sub shops nearby. He missed Chicago pizza.
Eventually, Peterson would attend and graduate from Scottsdale Culinary Institute and wind up working, like many recent culinary grads, at a local resort. The corporate structure, better pay, and freedom to be more creative kept him in the circuit for several years, working during that time at spots including the Boulders and Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. It was while working at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn that he met Danielle and Robert Morris. The three hit it off and became good friends, eventually deciding they wanted to open a place of their own together.
"I knew about this opportunity for a while," Peterson says of Cork. "I knew it was coming. I just didn't know when."
When the restaurant was finally ready he left his post immediately and threw himself into the new place.
Fast-forward to now and you'll find Peterson shaking off the cobwebs from the restaurant's annual July hiatus. This year he spent the off time making a big push to incorporate local ingredients into the menu. It's hard for any restaurant to go totally local, Peterson says. Add to that the fact that Cork's far-east location doesn't make it very convenient for producers to drop off their wares and you can imagine how much work he faced this summer.
But now diners can expect local butter, bread and produce from familiar names such as Maya's Farm, Agritopia, Hayden Flour Mills, and Crow's Dairy to land on their tables at Cork.
So does Peterson think this genius plan to bring upscale independent dining to the 'burbs is paying off, drawing more locally-owned eateries to the area?
"I think other people want to come down here," he says, thoughtfully. "And I think they can . . . I would love to see it go more in that direction."
Your current obsession: Everything local. We have access to such great quality products here, so we might as well use them.
A local restaurant you admire and why: Latitude Eight. They do great, comforting, authentic Thai.
The best thing you've eaten in Phoenix: Although not in Phoenix, New Mexican Grill in Gilbert always delivers. It's worth the short road trip for Phoenicians!
What do you think the best food city in the world is and why: I feel like there are a lot of great food cities which each offer their own unique food cultures, so it's hard to narrow it down to just one.
One thing Phoenix is still missing as a food town: More independent restaurants and the desire from the public to support them.
The best thing you've eaten in Chicago: Too many good things to list!
The next big thing in culinary will be: On a local level, the continuation of "farm to table" and supporting and spreading the movement wholeheartedly.
How do you avoid burning out: I like what I do and am fortunate to have flexibility with my scheduling so I don't get burnt out.
Best advice for an aspiring chef: Take your time and be patient.
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What's next? Back to work.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with:
Brian Wbb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay