Brian Peterson Executive Chef Cork
Today, we share part one of our interview with executive chef Brian Peterson of Cork in Chandler. The upscale neighborhood wine bar has gone through quite a transformation since it opened in 2008. Peterson dishes on how it's managed to find its niche. Come back Tuesday when he tells us about why he used to hate Arizona, and he talks about his current obsession with the "farm to table" trend.
Driving to Cork in Chandler from Central Phoenix the journey might take you through some open desert landscapes off I-10. If you're like us, you might find yourself wondering whether you've gone too far or maybe made a wrong turn.
An outpost in an on-the-edge-of-town strip mall goes against everything in the "location, location, location" school of thought, but setting up shop in a place where people thought (and maybe still think) independent upscale dining can't make it was exactly what owners Brian Peterson and Robert and Danielle Morris intended to do.
"We wanted to be the first and to do it the best," Peterson says. "In our heads, we were geniuses."
And maybe they were. Since opening more than five years ago the restaurant has won AAA Four Diamond recognition three times, Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence four times and accolades from just about every local publication.
But Peterson will tell you, it wasn't easy.
When Cork opened in 2008, the idea was to offer tasting-menu-style dining, so locals could order as many or as few small, sharable plates as they wanted. It was supposed to make the experience flexible, personal, even, affordable.
Of course, these days tasting-menu-only restaurants are spreading like wildfire. They're a common way for a chef to let diners experience a range of dishes at a lower price point, even if some are getting a little tired of the game. For the most part, people get it, though.
But back then? Not so much.
"I don't think the [tasting menu] trend is dying," Peterson says, "I just think the people coming here didn't get it."
So like any smart businessman would do, Peterson adjusted to his clientele, which in this case meant letting the restaurant's proportion sizes grow larger incrementally, to move away from the small-plates concept -- not that some people still don't have a problem with the restaurant's serving sizes.
"It always makes me laugh when people come in and say our portion sizes are too small," Peterson says. "It's a proper portion!"
(We won't even bother going down the rabbit hole about Americans and portion sizes.)
Peterson says he believes the changes have paid off so far, that the restaurant has finally "found its niche." As evidence, he tells us that they currently go through six pounds a week of foie gras, thanks for the most part, to Foie Gras Fridays. The weekly indulgence began as a response to California's foie gras ban last year and offers diners a fattened liver creation of Peterson's design for $15.
Four words to describe you: Quiet, reserved, fast, friendly.
One thing most people don't know about you: Protein makes up most of my diet. It's vital for me to keep up with my daily routine and exercise regimen.
One dish to sum up your cooking style: My Lion Paw Scallop appetizer that has been a menu favorite for a while. It has rabbit sausage, which, along with scallops, are two of my favorite proteins to eat and work with.
Your favorite drink and where you get it: Favorite would be a vodka soda, which is good practically anywhere. Non-alcoholic is coconut water.
Your biggest inspiration when it comes to cooking: My grandma.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I am fortunate enough not to have one . . . yet.
The first time you felt like a "real" chef: When I felt capable of and comfortable with running and entire kitchen and back-of-house staff.
Your personal mantra: Just relax.
What's a foodie to you? Someone who has an understanding of food and the passion to try new things.
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The best thing about being a chef in Phoenix is: Being in a market where more and more people are seeking out good food.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with:
Brian Wbb - 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