Jeff Jones, chef of P17: "We become a better restaurant when you give us constructive criticism"
This is part one of my interview with Jeff Jones, chef de cuisine of P17; part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.
When you're a kid, there's nothing worse than constantly being on the move. Unless, that is, you happen to wind up in Paris, in a flat above a patisserie, where the sweet scent of fresh-baked bread, croissants and pastries drifts through your window. Then again, for Jeff Jones, the chef de cuisine at P17, even the aroma of fresh croissants couldn't overcome his first encounter with salmon. "My mother would take me to the market in Paris every day to grab our food, and I honestly didn't think much of it until one day, when my mom failed to distract me from the whole salmon that just happened to be at eye level with me," recalls Jones. "I was horrified, and salmon plagued my dreams for years."
But not enough to curtail a professional cooking career. "Food was always a really big deal in my life, and while we were always moving, and I hated it, I'm so thankful now that I got to see so many different food cultures," says Jones, whose family eventually moved from France to a small town in Montana -- talk about a change of scenery -- when he was in junior high.
His mom became the manager of a hotel resort restaurant, and Jones, who was a golf enthusiast, took a gig as a dishwasher in exchange for his tee times. He stayed at the resort for six years, moving up through the ranks, and found he was good at cooking -- so good, in fact, that the chef encouraged him to ditch the clubs and focus on cooking.
That advice resonated, and Jones headed to Arizona to attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale; between coursework, he cooked at the Camelback Inn Resort & Spa. "It was a really fast-paced restaurant -- everything was turn-and-burn -- and it wasn't really what I wanted," admits Jones, who moved on to the now-defunct Marquesa, then a five-star, five-diamond resort restaurant. "It was the opportunity of a lifetime," he remembers. "Food costs were never an issue, the chef was a James Beard nominee, the line was an incredible cast of talented chefs, and while I was only there for seven months, those seven months were the most inspirational seven months I've ever had." After that, Jones nabbed a gig at a steakhouse at the same resort, a move that gave him food for thought.
"It's difficult working in Arizona, because there are so many hotel restaurants, so I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my career, and I knew I wanted to work for an independent restaurant," says Jones, who left the resort to work at Mosaic, exactly the kind of place he had envisioned. "I got to work with local farmers, which I loved, plus there was so much more freedom there than in a hotel restaurant, and I got to work really closely with the chef, too, which is hard to do in hotel restaurants, because there are so many people on the line," he explains.