Yesterday we heard from Chef Jen Anderson of Windsor on her strategies for creating recipes and cultivating kitchen leaders. Today, she shares more of her personal story and reflects on Phoenix food culture.
Where do you come from and how long have you been cooking?
I'm from Oregon originally. I've been a chef twelve years.
Degree of separation
I actually have a history and political science degree and was kind of wandering after college trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And it just became one of those things, "Gosh, I'm always looking at different recipes and thinking about what am I going to make for dinner tonight," and that kind of stuff, and I just though, "I need to find a job that doesn't feel like a job, that's something I love to do, and for me that was the biggest thing in my free time that I enjoyed doing. So I kinda dove in and decided to go to culinary school and I've been doing it ever since.
That's a surprising change! Did cooking run in the family?
My family does not have any cooking background at all though however on my step-dad's side of the family, I grew up on a family farm that's been in the family for six generations now and it's plums and walnuts and hazelnuts. And so obviously that was a big part of the kind of food that we ate. My mom was never a big cook. She cooked 'cause she had to, 'cause she had a family but my dad loved to cook so I'd like to think I probably got it from my dad but there's no real history of it in my family. I think they probably thought I was a little bit crazy.
I met a really good girl friend in culinary school that was from Columbia and convinced me to go to Miami with her after school. I didn't have a job, didn't have a place to live, had never been to Miami and I said, "Ok!" And I packed up my car and went and I figured if I didn't like it there's nothing holding me there and actually the first and only place I applied was the Houston's which was in North Miami Beach there. I started out as a line cook there and worked my way up through the company there and was an executive chef for them for about three years before I moved on.
Working for Hillstone eventually brought you to Scottsdale, how do you like living in Arizona?
Arizona was a place that I really didn't think I wanted to go, growing up in the lush and green and the beauty of Oregon, I thought there was nothing that would attract me to Arizona. And I sorta fell in love with the desert and its beauty and everything else Arizona has to offer. When I left [Hillstone Group] I wanted to stay in Arizona.
Is there anything unique about the food culture here?
When I first moved out her five years ago I don't know if there really was anything unique. For a long time the best food you were going to find in the Valley was going to be at resorts whether is was the Royal Palms or the Phoenician....I think what really helped the food scene to take off in the Phoenix area to be honest was the bust of the economy. A lot of restaurants started closing but it also created opportunities for a lot for chefs to get great used restaurants at crazy prices. When things like that happen people in general tend to look for comfort in other areas and for a lot of people that comes in their food.
From the farm, to the table
The way I've seen the farm to table concept grow in Phoenix blows me away because obviously coming from the area that I do, in Portland and in Oregon I grew up around all that stuff and never thought twice about it....I think that was a huge turn for Phoenix because they're working in a really tough environment.
How does this play out at Windsor?
We work with Cotton Country Jams, he's a local guy. We also use Tender Belly pork products. Tender Belley is a pork producer that is up in Cave Creek. We've been starting to work with some of the local farms and getting more of our produce, but a lot of the produce we're going through in a high volume so it's more difficult. We use Schreiner's sausage, we use two differnt kinds of their sausages. We use a local coffee brewer. We use MJ Bread.
I never want to be a chef that does really fine dining. I'm more about kind of feeding the masses, and that's probably like the wrong term and a bad way of putting it but I want to make food that's really good, that's approachable, yet craveable, that people want to come back to. I'm never going to be a person that spends five minutes artfully arranging a plate. I wholly respect the people that do that, but that's just not how I am.
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Best part of you job:
I think that for someone especially that starts out as a line cook and you work your way up,there's kinda nothing like that adrenaline rush that you get during dinner service. And I think that in places that are more casual and approachable you tend to still kind of get your adrenaline rush, you get your push during lunch or during dinner, and that's exciting, that makes it fun.
And what about fun in your free time:
I love hiking and love to golf. I'm kind of a book nerd so I love to read. I tend to like books that help me escape from the everyday so I tend to be a murder mystery enthusiast. I definitely like a good culinary read. I really like Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl.
Check back tomorrow to get the recipe for Jen's favorite Windsor menu item, the Halibut Banh Mi.