At just 32, Stephen Jones, executive chef of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, the "cozy, yet chic metropolitan gastro lounge" set to open this June in CityScape's Hotel Palomar, is ready to take the Phoenix dining scene to a new level.
"There used to be a stigma about young chefs," Jones tells me, "but that's changed. People like Payton Curry and Justin Beckett, they're making things happen."
Jones, who moved from Chicago to Phoenix in 2008 to be with his fiancée, has an impressive culinary past. He's done stints in several food-centric cities across the country and lived on a fishing boat in Japan for six months. Here in the Valley, Jones has cooked with legendary tastemaker Mark Tarbell as his chef de cuisine and, most recently, was the executive chef at Latilla at the Boulders Resort in Scottsdale.
Here, Jones dishes on life in Phoenix, his new restaurant, and just about everything else.
On becoming a chef: "When I was growing up, I wanted to do three things: play football, coach football, or cook. After a football injury in college and the birth of my son, stuff got real -- so I went to culinary school."
On the Phoenix food scene in 2008: "I got here and I was like, 'What the hell?' I had just left Chicago, so it was quite a shock. There wasn't really a food scene at all -- [Chris] Bianco, [Nobuo] Fukuda, [Kevin] Binkley -- they were some of the only ones doing anything, but their restaurants were so far apart. I would go out to dinner and get completely irritated with people trying to do stuff they didn't know how to do."
On working with Mark Tarbell: "Mark's like a little ninja. He's always in the back of the kitchen, watching. He's very meticulous about what he wants. He's also a czar of information, very well educated and cultured. We would have lots of conversations about the Dalai Lama and Buddhism."
On his favorite Valley restaurants: "Lately, it's been The Breadfruit, but I also like Nobuo at Teeter House, Pane Bianco, Cork, Arrogant Butcher, and Cafe Bink."
On what he does in his time off: I usually go to restaurants and read cookbooks." (Jones has more than 500 of them.)
On changing the downtown Phoenix food scene: "Downtown should be the epicenter of the food scene in Phoenix. The city will always be a year and a half out from everything else -- we can't get too progressive -- but we're pushing the limits."
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On advice for future chefs: "Keep your head down, listen, and learn. Don't be afraid to work long hours. Get a job washing dishes and doing prep before you think about culinary school and maybe not even then -- it's usually not worth it."
On his new restaurant: "It's going to be takes off classic American food with some sharable dishes. There's a focus on locally sourced organic food, and the restaurant is very eco-friendly -- from the lighting to the water-filtration system. We've got a talented team and management that supports us. We'll let the food do the talking for us."
Blue Hound Kitchen and Grill will be open daily for dinner, cocktails and late-night bites with lunch and brunch to follow. Along with cocktails, look for dishes like caramel popcorn with ancho chile, adobo, butterscotch, and maldon sea salt; pink snapper crudo with Arizona citrus, chive blossoms, and fennel pollen sparkle; baby zucchini served as mini "corn dogs" with Green Goddess dressing; and Kentucky Fried Quail with foie gras cornbread, red beans, and sausage gravy.