Stephen Jones of Bootleggers: "I'm Just Going to Do the Damn Thing"
Chef Stephen Jones
Courtesy of Bootleggers
Stephen Jones Executive Chef Bootleggers Modern American Smokehouse
When we met with Stephen Jones late last week, it'd been just over a week since he started his new gig as executive chef of Bootleggers Modern American Kitchen. And in just that short amount of time, he'd already written a new menu and formed some solid ideas about the changes he'll be bringing to the restaurant.
Jones, who came to Phoenix by way of Chicago in 2008, made his name in the local food scene when he opened Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails at Kimpton's Hotel Palomar in 2012. He'd been at a handful of other local restaurants prior, but it was his distinctive take on classic American and Southern cuisine at Blue Hound that propelled him to the forefront of the Valley's culinary scene.
Inside the original Bootleggers location in north Phoenix.
The chef left Kimpton and Blue Hound Kitchen in early August -- in part, he says, because he was "damn tired" and in part due to his unhappiness with the direction the company was going. Jones says he's still good friends with some people from the old crew, but also admits that the writing on the wall was impossible to ignore.
For the last month or so, he's been taking time to recharge by traveling (back to Chicago and to Los Angeles), golfing, eating, and reading.
Now he's ready to jump right into the mix at Bootleggers.
"Their barbecue program is solid already," the chef says. "So I'm not touching that. I'm here to do other things."
Namely, he's here to up the menu game at the restaurant by infusing it with a some of the cuisine for which he became well-known at Blue Hound. Jones says you can expect the new Bootleggers menu to be "along the same lines" as what he was doing at the downtown restaurant. He even hinted that dishes such as his Kentucky Fried Quail might be making a guest appearance at Bootleggers.
"I'm going to put the "modern" in "Modern American Smokehouse," Jones says.
The chef says the "smoke program" will be the same at both Bootleggers locations, but that he's going to try to really tailor the menu toward each location's neighborhood and demographics. He'll also be embracing his personal mantra,"vegetables are sexy," moving forward. Look forward to a wider selection of vegetables that will be locally sourced and prepared in a range of different ways.
Jones expects to be able to unveil the new menu, which he just finished writing, by mid-October.
"I'm just going to do the damn thing and I'm going to do the damn thing unpretentiously," he says.
Bootleggers in Scottsdale took over the former Praying Monk location.
Guilty pleasure: I love canned tuna. But it's gotta be canned tuna that's packed in olive oil, not water. And no mayonnaise, cause I hate mayonnaise.
Even homemade mayonnaise? I hate mayonnaise with a passion. There's a difference between aioli and mayonnaise - a huge difference. Mayonnaise has no place on any shelf.
Favorite drink: I love Fernet Branca...but you know, sazerac and negroni too.
Favorite ingredient right now: I'd say collard greens [and] mustard greens. Bob McClendon is gonna be growing some of those up pretty soon. They're in the works and I can't wait. I'm kind of chomping at the bit to get to those. I have some really fun ideas and things that I'm going to do with those.
Ingredient you're sick of: Bacon! Over it.
Favorite vegetable: My favorite vegetable currently, right now, is broccoli. It's so versatile. I've fermented it; I've done some fun things with it. I love grilling it.
Least favorite vegetable: I don't have one. I've been thinking about it and I don't know of a vegetable that I don't like. There are vegetables that I hate cleaning cause it's just a pain in the ass, but I mean, there isn't one out there that I dislike.
Favorite places in Phoenix for cheap eats: Welcome Diner is great...Little Miss is good if you feel like waiting in that line...All the food trucks are really, really good for a quick bite. I'm not going to say The Parlor is cheap but it's really tasty. I don't know, Five and Diner? I guess that's really it cause I cook at lot at home.
Go-to dish to cook at home: Any grilled vegetable. I grill a lot of vegetables.
Favorite style of regional barbecue: It's hard. I love different nuances about all the different types of barbecue; they all bring something different to the table that I enjoy. I can't pick one out. I really, really can't pick one out. It's probably one of the hardest questions I'll ever have to answer and I probably still won't ever be able to answer.
What would Arizona's regional barbecue look like? I think, because of proximity and just accessibility, I would have to say Texas - central Texas and that whole barbecue belt. People here are used to that Southwestern kind of thing and it would just work.
How would you describe the barbecue at Bootleggers? You know, I would say the barbecue here lends itself to that type of thing. We've got the man, Kevin himself here. Slade knows barbecue. That's where that came from. There's nuances and we do lots of rubs...brine some things, I would say closer to Texas...yeah. If I had to.
Biggest mentor is the kitchen and the most important thing you learned from him or her: I'd have to say Michael Cimarusti. He taught me a lot about seafood, a lot about seafood and just that drive and that passion and that work ethic. Uh, also David LeFevre, he came over from Charlie Trotter's - I mean, hell, Charlie himself. He taught me a lot of about vegetables. Just taught me to really, really, really dive in and understand vegetables. And Michael Kornick taught me everything about restaurants and how to run a restaurant...how to treat a staff and how to be respectful to everything. Michael Kornick is my mentor; I still talk to him to this day and bounce ideas off of him. He's such a great and positive guy to work for and to be around. He's a firecracker, that guy.
I've been fortunate enough during my career to make some right decisions and be in some really good kitchens and be around some really, really good people. People that I trusted and that trusted in me and I learned a lot.
Five places you have to eat in Chicago: You gotta go to Purple Pig, Longman & Eagle, MK, Girl and the Goat...Avec, Publican Quality Meat, The Publican, Big Star - anything Paul Kahan touches, basically. Uh, Nightwoord, The Bristol...just cut me off.
Best bar in Chicago: Violet Hour, the Aviary next - that's amazing, something totally different. Sepia has some pretty good cocktails and I feel that Sable is literally great and although it's not a bar, if you're looking for a solid beer program The Publican is nice, really really nice. Big Star has a really nice brown liquor storage there. There's a lot; they're popping up every where now with mixology doing what it's doing.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Matt Zdeb -- Silvana Salcido EsparzaMatt Zdeb -- SumoMaya Felicia Ruiz -- Lola Tapas Aaron Pool -- Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup Patrick Karvis -- TapHouse Kitchen Marisa Lown -- Radical Cupcake Brian Konefal -- Coppa Cafe Kelly Fletcher -- The Revival Bob Tam -- Bitter and Twisted BJ Hernandez -- Havana Patio Cafe Matt Taylor -- Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald -- The Market by Jennifer's Jared Lupin -- Umami Michael O'Dowd -- Urban Vine Dennis Delamater -- The Post Doc Brown -- Doc Brown's Artisan Ice Cream Josh Bracher -- Second Story Liquor Bar Chris McKinley -- The Local Chris Mayo -- Central Bistro James Fox -- Bootleggers Jay and Christine Wisniewski -- Caffe Boa Joe Absolor - Clever Koi Jason Grossmiller - Arizona Distilling Company Chris Collins - Grassroots Kitchen and Tap Perry Rea - Queen Creek Olive Mill Adam Brown - Noca Steve Kraus - Press Coffee Roastery Jason Raducha and Claudio Urciuoli - Noble Bread Sasha Raj - 24 Carrots Nick LaRosa - Nook Joey Maggiore - Cuttlefish Country Velador - Super Chunk Sweets and Treats James Porter - Petite Maison Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - 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
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