Chef Chat: Jeremy Pacheco of Lon's at the Hermosa

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Three weeks after his takeover, Jeremy Pacheco has reinvented the breakfast and lunch menus of Lon's at the Hermosa. Who said Rome wasn't polished in a day?

The Tucson native spent seven years in the former Terrace Dining Room at the Phoenician. Opportunity then knocked, and Pacheco packed and left home for the Wynn Las Vegas. Five years and one angry, eight-pound lobster later (he'll tell you the story if you visit), and the Scottsdale Culinary School grad decided it was time to come back.

Pacheco says he's happy to be home and that the most exciting part of his job right now is Lon's one-acre garden in the back, which is now home to four citrus trees, rows of vegetables and herbs, and a few happy gardeners (Pacheco and bartender Nate Derks included).

Today, Pacheco dishes on what it feels like to be home, his rules in the kitchen and his slight obsession with fennel ...

What's your favorite ingredient to work with?
Everywhere I go, everyone makes fun of me because I use so much fennel, but I love it. I love its fresh flavor ... I'm working on planting it in Lon's garden out back, so hopefully it works out.

What are your rules in the kitchen?
I have two, really:
1. I like a structured kitchen, but I also like to have fun. It's a difficult job, so I allow everyone to have a little fun. But there are, of course, limits. When I get upset or angry, everyone in the kitchen knows it's time to focus and get serious.
2. My chefs have to participate. I want them involved in the chef's menu and in the decisions I make. I know they're here for a reason, so they need to have a say in what goes into the menu and what we're working with.

What's never found in your kitchen?
Some people mix the salt and pepper together. If I see my cooks doing that, I have to dump it out right away. Each should come in its own amount. If you mix the stuff together, there's no control in the seasoning.

Tool of choice?
The most important tool in my kitchen is the spoon. I carry one with me wherever I am. Spoons are perfect for tasting, saucing, plating, basting ... of course, I'm not going to use it on the grill, but they are great for almost everything.

Arizona has the best _________ (culinary wise).
I think Arizona has the best opportunity to stand out. People don't expect the farmer's markets and local focus. I was at the market in Scottsdale the other day and was just amazed by the quality of heirloom tomatoes and excited about the Queen Creek olive oil. I think a lot of people don't realize what we can get locally. Everyone looks at California and Florida for the best produce, but we have the best weather to grow this stuff eight months out of the year.

What is the Arizona foodscape missing?
Years ago, when I first came to the Phoenician, there was a really big culinary scene with Alex Stratta, Robert McGrath, Vincent Guerithault ... those guys were really big names at the time. While some of those guys are still here, I think that our reputation as a food destination has really fallen off. We need a culinary revival.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's part two of Chef Chat with Jeremy Pacheco and his lemon ricotta pancake recipe...

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