See Also: Chef James Porter Leaves Big Earl's BBQ
James Porter Petite Maison 7216 E. Shoeman Lane, Scottsdale 480-991-6887 www.petitemaisonaz.com
This is part one of my interview with James Porter, chef-owner of Petite Maison. Come back tomorrow for part two, when Porter explains why Deadliest Catch is better than anything on Food Network and names a local chef he could happily spend a week with.
Ask any chef who knows James Porter well to describe him, and nine times out of 10, the first word that pops out is "hilarious." Of course, as a classically trained chef who spent many years in resort kitchens, Porter has a thoughtful, focused side. But get him around his buddies and set a good bottle of scotch on the table, and the man can be seriously entertaining. Until he moved back to Phoenix to open Tapino Kitchen and Wine Bar in 2004, he also could have been described as peripatetic.
From the time he graduated SCI in 1992, he moved to Jenny Lake Lodge in Jackson Hole Wyoming, Boca Grande Island in Florida, the prestigious Greenbrier in West Virginia (where he apprenticed under master chefs for two years), the Virgin Islands (where he worked at Paradiso and Chateau Bordeaux), the Arizona Biltmore here in Phoenix, Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi (where he had fewer than 14 days off the entire year), Sea Venture Resort in Pismo Beach, New Jersey (to help a friend open a restaurant), Biltmore Hotel in Miami's South Beach, and, finally Portland, where he planned to open his own place. When that didn't pan out, he moved back to Phoenix and opened Tapino, which he faithfully tended for five years before closing it in May of 2009 and opening Petite Maison -- his tiny, charming French Bistro in Old Town -- just three months later.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: Boiled peanuts. It reminds me of growing up in Florida and driving to local fruit and vegetable stands. Everybody had them and every stand made them differently.
Favorite thing to eat now: Homemade roasted chicken. The beauty is in its simplicity.
Weirdest thing you ever ate: Turkey testicles. They tasted chalky and salty.
If you weren't a chef, what would you be: A Formula One race car driver. When I was little, my dad's company used to sponsor race cars. And I would go play in a pit crew for the summer.
Most overrated ingredient(s): Bacon, burrata, leeks, and kale.
Most underrated ingredient(s): Passion, persistence, and integrity.
Trend you wish would go away: The use of "organic" as a designer label on food. While I understand that people want to be healthy, the fact is that becoming "certified organic" is incredibly expensive for small, independent farmers and does not always mean the best quality. And the reality is that beets can be grown on a plot of land that has been designated "organic," and literally 20 feet away, the exact same beets planted at the exact same time from the exact same packet of seeds may not have the organic designation if another farmer is leasing the land -- but the quality and health benefits are exactly the same. That's crazy. And doesn't it seem odd to anyone else that it's considered a "better choice" to buy an organic pear with a "certified organic" sticker wrapped in colored tissue paper that's grown in Chile for $6.99 a pound. I mean... really?
What's a "foodie"?: It used to be a word that referred to someone who is passionate about food. But it has become an empty term that describes wanna-be experts with no hospitality experience who look down their noses and loudly judge what they themselves cannot do.
Describe Phoenix as a restaurant town: Kind of like an eighth-grader whose voice is starting to change, whose arms and legs are awkward and tend to flail a bit, but has a heart of gold and could grow up to be president someday.
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Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles