Jeff Jones, chef of P17: "We become a better restaurant when you give us constructive criticism"
When Mosaic shuttered in 2009, Jones paused again to reflect on his future, and the map pointed him to Denver. "I was inspired by Denver's close-knit restaurant community, the hospitality and the friendliness," says Jones, who was hired as a sous-chef at Parallel 17, chef-owner Mary Nguyen's Vietnamese restaurant in Uptown, which she recently closed and reopened as P17, a European neighborhood bistro. "Mary is very quick to let me have freedom, she's the first one to push me to do better, she's true to her word, and you can trust her," stresses Jones, who in the following interview admits that he's not keen on consuming insects, confesses that he's obsessed with tomatoes, and reveals that his favorite trend of the year is the restaurant pop-up.
Lori Midson: Ten words to describe you:
Jeff Jones: Loyal, dedicated, reliable, impulsive, ambitious, charismatic, courageous, joyful, creative and sympathetic.
Five words to describe your food:
Simple, honest, beautiful, balanced and comforting.
What's your approach to cooking?
My family moved around a lot when I was young, and as a result, I lived up and down the East Coast, spent a few years in France and went to high school in Montana. Moving so often was really tough, but because of it, I learned to appreciate the simplicity and culture of food. In every place we lived, there was so much to appreciate, whether it was picking wild huckleberries with my mom and brothers in Montana to make fresh jam, or eating a freshly baked croissant in France from a neighborhood patisserie. Simply put, cooking unfussy, beautiful meals with friends and family has influenced the way I cook at P17.
Tomatoes. I worked in Scottsdale, Arizona, for Deborah Knight, the chef-owner of Mosaic restaurant, and she took me out to Duncan Family Farms -- a farm that we sourced from at the time. The farm owners grew what we wanted to feature on the menu, but nothing was better than their tomatoes. They grew hundreds of different heirloom vines, each a different shape and color, some so sweet you'd think you were eating a plum, others bright and tart like a lemon. I've been obsessed ever since. We feature tomatoes at the new P17 in three different small plates: a tomato tart with goat cheese; grilled squid with pesto and a cucumber-and-tomato relish; and a fresh tomato-and-cherry salad served in a Parmesan crust. With summer just around the corner, I'm looking forward to expanding the use of tomatoes into other warm-weather dishes.
Your favorite smell in the kitchen:
I love the rich, nutty smell of butter browning, or the spicy, fresh smell of sliced jalapeños. You can't beat either one.
Favorite kitchen gadgets:
I love spoons. They're simple, but I use them in all aspects of the kitchen: cooking, plating, tasting and testing for consistency. Ryan O'Conner, our "cork dork" at P17, introduced me to a spoon created by Ferran Adrià; it's a spoon that's designed like an old-fashioned ink pen, and it holds the sauce and releases it like you're drawing on the plate with a pen. If I'm in the kitchen without a spoon, I feel the way some people feel without their phone. Spoons are my comfort item.