Chef News

Jared Porter of The Parlor on Cooking with Chemicals and Eating "The People's Food"

Jared Porter The Parlor 1916 East Camelback Road 602-248-2480

See also: The Parlor Offers Nose-to-Tail Dinners Wednesday Through Saturday Starting February 6 Gallo Blanco's Doug Robson Opens New Mexican Restaurant in Phoenix

This is part one of my interview with Jared Porter, executive chef of The Parlor. Come back Wednesday when Porter dishes on Vincent Guerithault and working in Michael DeMaria's kitchen.

Before this interview, I had met Jared Porter once or twice in passing, and obviously, I don't really know him even now. But five minutes into our conversation at The Parlor, I'm struck by his intelligence, straightforwardness, and positive energy. Sounds like a cliché, I know, but you seldom meet people in this world who conduct their lives by the "this little light of mine" principle, and it seems Porter does. Not in some sugary Kumbaya way but rather a good-natured acceptance of the world as it is and a desire to leave his mark on it, maybe even have a little fun in the process. Sure, he's got fire in the belly, but it emanates from a spark that resides more deeply within.

"I don't have that cooking-by-Mom's-side story" he tells me when I ask him how he got into the business, adding that he hated high school and enrolled in the EVIT program his junior and senior years. Soon after, he earned a C-CAP scholarship, winning a full ride to culinary school at the Art Institute of Phoenix, where an instructor helped him land a part-time job at Vincent on Camelback. He stayed there for two years before moving to Michael's at the Citadel, where he worked with Doug Robson, Jay Bogsinke, Patrick Fegan, Matt Carter, and Tammie Coe.

Coe left to "do her thing" (and work with La Grande Orange) and Robson followed her shortly thereafter. Porter, who was 19 and a line cook at the time, was gunning for the sous chef position at Michael's, but DeMaria said he was too young (and rightly so, Porter admits now), so Porter joined his friends at LGO, being one of only three cooks in the kitchen at the time. "I liked being there," he says. "I was at work all the time."

When Fegan moved to Fiamma Trattoria in the former James Hotel, Porter followed, where he soaked up all he could from corporate chef Michael White. "The guy is a stellar, stellar chef; I found my true vision of Italian food there," Porter says.

Fiamma closed two years later, but Porter stayed on for Asia de Cuba (Fiamma's successor) burning out on hotel restaurants two years later. Who did he call when he did? Fegan, of course, who was executive chef at Olive & Ivy at the time. Fegan's chef de cuisine was leaving, and he offered Porter the position.

Somewhere around that time, another friend, Aaron Chamberlin, introduced Porter to Aric Mei, whose dad and uncles founded Nello's. Mei planned to open an upscale pizza place in a former midcentury beauty parlor on Camelback, but it took about a year to complete the extensive re-do, so Porter came on board four or five months early, helping out with the finishing work. "I knocked it out so I could get back to doing what I do," he says. "It was my sweat equity."

Now, as executive chef of The Parlor, he changes the menu seasonally, harvesting herbs and produce from the restaurant's front-door garden. A month ago, he started "Bestia Tutto" (The Whole Beast), a weekly Wednesday-through-Saturday night event featuring three menu items using various parts of a whole animal -- pig, lamb, goat, quail, fish, you name it. "I'm focused on moving this forward. Don't count us out," Porter says. "We're not just a pizza joint; that's not all we do."

Five words to describe you: Driven, hard-working, inspiring, caring, gracious and to add one: doesn't put up with BS (I know, it's a phrase, not a word).

Five words to describe The Parlor: Progressive, legitimate, comfortable, seasonal, classroom.

Favorite food smell: A tomato vine in summer. Smells like the color green would smell.

Favorite cookbook and why: Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White. It's more than just food philosophy, it's life philosophy. He's my culinary Yoda.

Name an ingredient you love to cook with and explain why: Very simple. Salt. It's what makes everything taste like what it is truly meant to taste like.

Most over-rated ingredient: Chemicals in food. If you can't figure out how to make the natural chemistry in food work for you, don't throw a chemical in it; just pack up your tools and kick rocks. My opinion.

Trend you like: It's not really a trend but more of a dining style. I'm inspired by peasant food -- noodle/dumpling houses, pub food, taco shops, and, of course, Italian like we do. The "people's food."

Catchphrase you wish would go away: "Foodie." Not to be a jerk, but I think anybody that likes good food for a good price should be considered a "foodie." It's not necessary to go around and be snobbish about food like you have a Ph.D. in pasta.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles

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Nikki Buchanan