Jeremy Pacheco's foray into the world of cooking started at the Sheraton Hotel in Tucson. His objective for working in a kitchen at 16 was like any teenager's.
"I wanted money to buy a car," Pacheco says.
His first job was washing dishes, but he quickly expressed interest in other positions. "I wanted to be a busboy, but immediately realized I didn't want to be on the floor with people."
The chef moved him into the kitchen. And he's never left.
"There is an adrenaline rush that came in being in the kitchen when it is getting super busy," he says. "There was an excitement to it."
Recently, Pacheco became the executive chef for Genuine Concepts — co-founded by Tucker Woodbury and Jim Riley. That's all five locations of The Vig, as well Ladera Taverna y Cocina, The Womack, The Little Woody, and The McMillan. But a lifetime of experience with food, kitchens, and not being overall satisfied is what got him to this point.
Pacheco is a ninth-generation Arizonan, whose family owned a cotton farm in the Tucson area. His maternal grandmother operated a diner, and Sunday supper was a tradition. Mom was also a good cook, who learned to make tamales as a way to honor his dad's Mexican and Spanish heritage.
There are stories about his father in the kitchen, too. "My dad would, harvest, shuck, and grill the white and green corn to make the masa," Pacheco says." We have a history of great food in my family."
A combination of this heritage and the aforementioned adrenaline rush from the kitchen has made cooking, as he puts it, "part of my blood." He started community college after high school, but learned his real place was in culinary school. Pacheco enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts – Scottsdale, but he also wanted to work at The Phoenician resort.
"I called the chef at The Phoenician twice a day and begged him to give me a part-time job," he says. The chef at the Phoenician wasn't hiring, but was bugged enough to bring Pacheco on as a prep cook.
Initially, his role was limited to picking herbs for the entrees. But while sitting at The Terrace, one of the restaurants on the property, he made himself a promise: "I am going to be the chef of this place one day."
Pacheco attended school while working evenings, manning the pizza service station for room service. On weekends, he managed Sunday brunch, finally feeding a large crowd. Upon graduating from the institute at 20 in 1999, the morning sous chef encouraged him to apply for a junior sous chef position.
Pacheco thought he didn't have a chance, but then things got interesting. He landed the job and began a long mentorship with Peter Hoefler, the German executive chef, who he affectionately called Papa.
"I learned to make everything right, every single time," Pacheco says of learning from Hoefler. "It doesn't matter if it is using micro greens or garnishing food or a proper way to use olive oil, salt, and pepper."
Another important introduction Hoefler made to Pacheco was new cuisines. For instance, Pacheco didn't know about sushi.
Not all days were fun. Pacheco's mentor was tough. In his early 20s, he was put in the position of leading veteran cooks in their 40s and 50s. By 27, he became the chef de cuisine of The Terrace — fulfilling his earlier promise.
But Pacheco is not one to idle. He wanted more experience.
He moved to Las Vegas to become the sous chef at SW Steakhouse at the Wynn. "I was nervous," he admits of that time. "I had to take the menu and look up some of the ingredients I hadn't used before."
Nervous but not scared of the new position. "I remember just doing it," he says. "For young cooks, get your hands dirty and do it. If you screw up, you screw up. But the important thing is to learn from it."
During a summer while working in Las Vegas, he also had the chance to visit the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
"I remember taking Culinaria Italy with me in a backpack and lugging that thing around," he says. "Every time I ate at a restaurant and didn't know what it was, I'd pull out the book and research it." He did the same when traveling to Maui with his family. That time he took The French Laundry Cookbook and read it front to back.
But after five years in Vegas, Pacheco returned to Phoenix
He became the executive chef at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn by 32 in 2010, but wasn't happy with the food menu. He began developing new recipes, changing habits in the kitchen, and altering the food culture of the restaurant. From this time, he remembers being proud to see his name on the menu at Lon's.
To stick to the timeline, After three years at Lon's, he did another brief stint in Vegas, and then returned to Lon's again.
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When asked why he made the move back — again — Pacheco says he missed the Phoenix community. At the time of his return in 2015, the farm-to-table movement was kicking off. He spent another five years at Lon's.
Now, as of April 2020, Pacheco manages all kitchens for Genuine Concepts as the culinary director.
"It is real exciting to go from one place to managing nine restaurants," Pacheco says. He says the key will be to serve good food consistently at all locations. But, as we've learned, he's usually up for a challenge.
"Once you are in something so far, you have to eat and sleep it," he says. "I look forward to bringing my talents and creativity to some of the most beloved neighborhood kitchens in the Valley."