Jeremy Pacheco Lon's at the Hermosa 5532 N. Palo Cristi Road, Paradise Valley 602-955-7878, hermosainn.com
This is part one of my interview with Jeremy Pacheco, executive chef of Lon's and the Hermosa Inn. Come back Tuesday when Pacheco dishes about one of his most embarrassing moments in the kitchen.
Jeremy Pacheco has never been afraid of work. As the son of a Marana cotton farmer, he grew up pulling weeds in 110-degree heat. But when he was 16 and wanted a car, he decided to try his hand at restaurant work, taking his first gig as a dishwasher at a Sheraton in Tucson. He tried front-of-the-house work for about a minute but soon learned he "didn't like people too much," so the chef brought him back to the kitchen, where Pacheco started cleaning shrimp and plating salads.
After high school, he had just enough experience to land a job as lead cook at the Last Territory in the Sheraton El Conquistador, where he says his knuckles were continuously covered in blisters from flaming steaks all night long. Pacheco was going to community college ("taking Spanish and fooling around"), when another Last Territory cook left to go to culinary school, something Pacheco didn't even know existed. He did a little research, enrolled at SCI in Scottsdale and landed a full-time gig at The Terrace at the Phoenician. Never mind that SCI recommended part-time work. Pacheco went full throttle -- days, nights, whenever they needed him -- until a position for tournant sous chef (the guy who can handle every station) opened and other Terrace staffers encouraged Pacheco to apply. He was just finishing culinary school, won the position, and was thrown into a three-meal restaurant offering a lavish Sunday brunch and 24-hour room service. It was a trial by fire.
But two old-school European chefs -- Terrace chef de cuisine Ernst Springhorn and Phoenician executive chef Peter Hoefler -- took Pacheco under their collective wing, mentoring him between occasional rounds of golf. When Starwood started putting the squeeze on the Phoenician in 2005, Pacheco moved on, landing a gig at SW Steakhouse at the Wynn in Las Vegas. Pacheco remembers they were doing 500 to 700 covers a night and the preparations were impossibly elaborate considering the volume, but he was working with talented people (David Walzog, for one, the guy who literally wrote the book on steakhouses) and he stayed on for three years.
When Wynn was ready to open Encore (his second hotel), Pacheco threw his hat in the ring, becoming tournant chef for the entire hotel. The scale of everything was huge -- feeding 3,500 employees per day, ordering 200 lobsters per day from an in-hotel warehouse. He later took the chef de cuisine position at Society Café in the Encore, where they were cranking out New American food such as fried mac and cheese and pigs in a blanket (which sounds nothing like the Pacheco I know). He stayed for a year and half -- until family members sent him a clipping that said Lon's at the Hermosa was looking for a new executive chef. Pacheco did a tasting for owners Fred and Jennifer Unger and he was hired, making it his first job to update menus and plate presentations.
When he got here, Pacheco says, the farm-to-table movement was just hitting its stride. Besides making contacts with local farmers and planting a garden on the hotel grounds, Pacheco created the first beer for Sonoran Brewing's seasonal, chef-collaboration beer brewing series, using wheat grown on his family's farm. Named for Lon Megargee's seven wives, it's called 7 Wives Saison, and if you're lucky, you may still find some at A.J.'s or Tops.
Five words to describe you: Creative, dedicated, honest, ambitious, hard-working.
Five words to describe Lon's: Warm, rustic, inviting, unique, comfortable.
Favorite food smell: Meat braising and a pot of Hayden Flour Mills polenta on the stove top. I also love the smell of raw, fresh pasta dough.
Favorite cookbook: I couldn't choose just one; it depends on what I'm looking for. My fall-back books are The French Laundry Cookbook (Thomas Keller), The Babbo Cookbook (Mario Batali), and Nobu: The Cookbook (Nobu Matsuhisa). I love Art Culinaire -- technically, a magazine that comes out quarterly and all about what is current and trending with technique and plating.
Ingredient you love to cook with: Fennel makes its way into most everything at Lon's. I love the flavor and freshness. When I just want to get in the kitchen, cook and forget about things, I love to braise a piece of meat -- osso bucco or short ribs. I find it relaxing.
Two favorite local restaurants: Pig and Pickle and Nobuo at Teeter House. Josh and Keenan are doing good food, well-prepared, at a great price point. They also have a great craft beer selection, which is something I look for. They're having fun with food and you can tell.
Best meal you've had in the last year: The chef's tasting menu at Nobuo at Teeter House. Everything is perfectly prepared. It's great to see service staff that knows everything on the plate, how it's prepared and takes pride in what its kitchen has to offer. The Two Wash Ranch chicken trio sticks out. You never expect to see chicken on a tasting menu, but the preparation of the chicken really stands out. Nobuo has Two Wash feeding the chickens Reggiano Parmigiano. Who would think it would make that big a difference?!
What's the next big thing or a trend you're already seeing?: Casual dining using great product and great preparation.
And what finally seems to be going away (thank God!)?: Everything fried.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: