This is part two of our interview with chef James Porter of Petite Maison in Scottsdale. The restaurant underwent substantial changes two months ago, when Porter and his wife, Wendy, announced they'd be switching up the menu and décor to reflect more modern French sensibilities. On Monday, we chatted with the chef about his motivation for doing so -- if you missed that part of the interview, you can read it here. Today, we're back to get his thoughts on Phoenix as a food town (or rather, as a not food town) and to find out what else he's got cooking.
See also: 5 Best Places for Dessert in Scottsdale
It's a bittersweet thing to see one of the city's few upscale French restaurants go the modern route, especially when Porter acknowledges that there aren't any truly "classic French restaurants" in town. But the chef insists the dearth of white tablecloth restaurants serving coq au vin and ratatouille is merely a consequence of the Valley's somewhat stunted development as a food town.
"Phoenix is not a food town," Porter says. "It's just not. And I wish that it could be, and I hope to be a part of the moment when people go, "Ah ha!" and "Oh, yeah!" and we turn the corner. But people still want chain restaurants in this town. People still love it."
For Porter, who's a candid guy, it also comes down to what he considers a smart business move.
"There's supply and demand," he says. "We can all cook for our egos, but egos don't pay the bills."
That's why you'll also find the restaurant stopped its late-night staff meal, a feature Porter says he started when upscale restaurants offering late-night menus was a rarer thing. Now it's not so hard to find -- particularly in Scottsdale -- so he's opted to give the people what they've wanted for years: happy hour.
And Petite Maison is doing a competitive one, too. With half-off glass wines, beer, and signature cocktails; $1 oysters; a $13 selection of three cheese; and $6 snacks, including lobster poutine, pate, and smoked salmon tartar.
As for the future, Porter says he has more than one new project in the works, which he says we can expect within the next year to year and a half. He's tight-lipped on details, giving only these few tantalizing clues:
"You may see things on the horizon . . . a group of us chefs doing things together. You may see partnerships with other chefs . . . you may see all sorts of odd combinations.
The best thing about living in Arizona: I have lived in 25 states, some more than once, some even three times, but damn is the weather nice most of the year!
The best thing you've ever eaten: Six-egg omelet with about an eighth of a pound of white truffles.
Your best advice for restaurateurs: Slow and steady wins the race. Fads come and go, but heart, soul, and honesty will be your lifeline to success . . . And a steady supply of scotch and a true friend to drink it with, to commiserate in successes and failures.
The ideal New Year's celebration involves: Me in bed by 12:01 a.m.
One dish you can't get in Phoenix that you wish you could: Boerewors, a South African sausage that is made from local game.
Your favorite dish on the new menu: Bone marrow, white anchovy, and snails.
The hardest thing about owning a restaurant: The government bureaucracy, taxes, and always putting myself last on the list.
One trend you want to die in 2014 and one you hope takes off: Trend to end: Food Network and empty promises to culinary graduates. Trend to take off: Guts and spine-related work ethic and spreading the passion for our craft.
What national/international restaurant is on your must-go list this year: Any restaurant on the beach in South Africa. At some point in your life, you realize that it's about the experience and not necessarily what's "flashy" at the moment. It is all about great wines, great family, great experiences.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: 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