This week we talk with Chef Jen Anderson at the recently opened Windsor, a gastopub in central Phoenix. We caught her over lunch at the restuarant one afternoon and she gladly dished about her story, the local food scene, and her recipe for Halibut Banh Mi.
Anderson came to the Valley about five years ago and met Lauren Bailey and Craig DeMarco. When the two decided to open Windsor and Churn, they turned to Jen to create their menu.
How did it come together?
Lauren and Craig had specific ideas on what they were looking for in terms of a menu but really needed someone to make those things come to life....Really it's all about just classic American food that's simple. It's a place that you can come to two to three times a week at least and that you're not gonna get bored of the food. You don't feel like you're spending a ton of money to get great food but it's stuff that you wouldn't want to take the time to maybe make at home.
So how do you go about creating a recipe?
I'm not one of those chefs that could ever compete on Top Chef or Chopped on the Food Network or something. I definitely like to kind of think and marinate on the direction I want to go in and I want it to be very clear. For me before I cook a new recipe, it's 95% done in my head. A lot of times I'll have a base idea. If someone says, "I want to do a fish sandwich." Ok well what's the best fish for the sandwich? Does it have some crunch to it? Does it have some spice? Does it have some sweetness? What's the color going to look like on the plate? Food's as much art I think as anything else so you're thinking about all those kinds of things that artists would think about.
Where do you find inspiration?
I'll definitely look at books and the Internet and ideas for things....I'll take examples and ideas form pretty much anywhere that I can and then think about how am I going to make it a little bit different or unique, significant to this environment here.
What's the first thing you think about?
For me it's probably really all about flavors. I like to have people eat things that I like I guess and maybe that's bad but that's how I am. I tend to start with flavors that I know I like or are popular.
We apologize for interrupting you over lunch but what are you eating there?
We just rolled out a ceviche for the summer and then this is our cobb dip which is sort of like a really divine egg salad sandwich without the sandwich part of it.
One of my hourly employees made up the [ceviche] and then I made up the cobb dip. As we've started to go and I've really developed some leaders in the kitchen they've said "Hey I want to do this chef," or, "What do you think?" And so it's been really awesome because we have four new menu items today and three out of those four were generated by my kitchen employees.
How do you get leaders in the kitchen?
I think it's all about how you yourself act as a leader. For me, I always think, "How am I going to ask someone to do something if I'm not willing to do it?" If I'm not willing to do dishes or take out the garbage why should I expect anyone else to do those things or to want to do those things.
Letting them spread their wings
I think it's just allowing that ability to say, "You guys are working this more than I am, you guys are working on the line every day, what's something that you think people will enjoy or how can we do something better? It's really just asking the question and showing that you respect the answer and that you're willing to listen....For me it's the exact reason that I left Houston's, is that I didn't have that creative freedom. I want these guys to be able to have that freedom that I didn't have when I was a young line cook.
How much input do your customers have on what happens in the kitchen?
We recently had a food fight show down on Chow Bella with our fattoush salad. And that food fight was really....I read it and it was like a stab to the heart! And we were like, "Great, let's look at the salad tomorrow and see what we can fix." And we made like four changes in that day. Those things are you know, we take them really seriously!
No hard feeling, we hope! Is the general public becoming more food conscious?
They want to know where is their fish coming from or their beef coming from, and how is it handled on the way to the restaurant....They want to support local and they want to eat the right way.
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Come back tomorrow for more from Jen Anderson!