James Porter Chef/Owner Petite Maison 480-991-6887 www.petitemaisonaz.com
This is part one of our interview with chef James Porter of Petite Maison in Scottsdale. See part two here. In November, the restaurant underwent a reboot, changing its look, menu, and name to transition the restaurant into a "modern French" eatery.
At the relaunch event a month ago, we couldn't help feeling a twinge of disappointment at the loss of what was one of the Valley's only restaurants serving decadent, truly French fare. Though the new menu still retains a French influence, it's also become yet another menu with trendy dishes like pastrami, pho, and artisan Italian cheese. We decided to talk to Porter about why he decided to ditch his little French country house in favor of a more urban, international (and in some ways, ordinary) feel.
Don't forget to come back Tuesday for the second part of our interview, in which Porter tells us what he really thinks about Phoenix as a food town.
In mid-November, Petite Maison chef and owner James Porter and his wife, Wendy, announced they'd be shutting down their four-year old restaurant for a three-day whirlwind renovation that included changes to the menu, décor, and logo. (They did it all themselves, and the sleek, but still cozy, new design is a testament to just how smart these two business owners are.)
Since opening in 2009, the restaurant has built a reputation as a charming French eatery where diners looking for a romantic night out could find homey bistro cuisine, first-rate service, and a truly unique atmosphere. The changes have brought modernity into the mix with the introduction of global flavors to the menu that Porter says "explore all the places that have a deep French cooking history."
"It's edgy. It's fun. It's playful," Porter says. "It's in and out of the sandbox. It's an exploration of the French influence across the world: modern French."
You'll find dishes like duck breast pho with black truffles, rice noodles, star anise, and foie broth next to more inherently French food, such as chickpea cassoulet with duck confit, boudin noir, and kumquat gremolata. Then there are some interpretations of the classics, including croquet madam pappardelle with crispy lardon, organic egg, comte, and chervil pistu.
The changes, Porter says, come for a number of reasons -- most notably because the restaurant needed to keep up with changing tastes.
"People want something new," Porter says. "Times have changed. Do we drive cars from the '50s? No, we drive electric cars because they're cool and hip and different. Food is the same way. You have to keep up with the times. "
One thing most people don't know about you: I have an obsession with musical instruments from around the world.
One song to describe your personality: "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
What's your favorite food-related memory: Having dinner with Marco Pierre White, and then hitting the town 'till 5 a.m.
Your favorite drink and the best place to get it: The "Pain Killer" at Foxy's Bar in Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Islands. When you sit there you will know why.
If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go and why?: Back to my in-laws house in Cape Town, South Africa. The best view, food, beaches, and countryside in the world.
Your favorite movie: Anything 007, of course.
The last thing you watched/read: Biggest Ships on The Smithsonian Channel.
The biggest challenge you've faced in your career and how you overcame it: The rise of the uneducated online "foodie" reviews. I have my wife read them and sift through any points that we really do need to improve upon.
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If you could dine with any five people, who would they be and where would you eat?: Jerry Garcia, Marco Pierre White, Newt Gingrich, Ayn Rand, David Lee Roth, and we would hit the street food scene in India. When I was younger, I traveled there and fell in love with the amazing food culture. It's the perfect location to gather some fascinating perspectives from my guest list.
The biggest misconception about French food: The biggest misconception about French food is that it's full of butter and cream. It's really full of technique, duck fat, and amazing wines.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - 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