Jeff Jones, chef of P17: "Without your cooks, or your dishwasher, you're nothing"
This is part two of my interview with Jeff Jones, chef de cuisine of P17; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
Your three favorite Denver restaurants other than your own:
I love Snooze on Larimer, and when I'm craving a nice breakfast or brunch on a day off, that's my go-to. I especially love their "bella-bella benny." Euclid Hall is always a good decision, too; their food is fantastic, with enough variety to please everybody, plus they have a great selection of beers and my favorite gin. Il Posto treats me like family. I've had numerous great meals there, and I can always count on a good glass of wine, nice cheeses and friendship.
Most noteworthy meal you've ever eaten:
The best meal I've ever eaten was in 2009. I have three brothers, and that summer, my younger brother had just graduated from high school, my oldest brother earned his master's degree, and after waiting nearly four years, my second-oldest brother had been accepted into a group home for Down syndrome. During that time, I had also graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale. We had so much to celebrate and marked the multiple occasions over a single meal, namely a family dinner featuring raclette, shaved cured meats and a bottle of 1997 Penfolds Grange. The food was simple, but the moment in time, surrounded by my family, made the meal memorable.
Most underrated Denver restaurant:
La Loma in Highland is one of the best restaurants I've been to in Denver. I love the authenticity of the restaurant. Their margaritas are all fresh-squeezed, and their enchiladas remind me of visiting my grandparents in New Mexico. I've only experienced great things from that little gem.
Who's the most underrated chef in Denver?
While I don't consider Beatrice & Woodsley "underrated," I think their chef, Eric Hiob, is one of the most talented chefs in Denver. I've had a couple of really great meals in his restaurant and have always loved the menus he creates. His aubergine-and-ricotta gnocchi is fantastic.
What's your biggest challenge as a chef working in Denver?
The short and temperamental growing season. If we're lucky, we have five months of solid growing weather. Since we literally have times when we see snow and 100-degree weather in the same week, local and seasonal menus are a significant challenge, especially from November through April.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way?
I feel like the shift away from fine dining -- by which I mean white tablecloths and coat and tie required -- is a really good thing. Some of the best restaurants are serving high-quality but affordable dishes, and that allows diners to eat out more often.
What do you expect from a restaurant critic?
I expect restaurant critics to be honest. Did the food make you happy? Did you feel welcome, like you were going over to a friend's house? Any chef can create a near-perfect experience if they know someone is coming into their restaurant, but the truly great chefs and restaurateurs create that same experience for everybody. That said, anonymity is of utmost importance if you want to get a true review of how the restaurant is. If we know a critic is coming in, it's inevitable that we'll treat them in a way that's unnatural.
What do you enjoy most about your craft?
Cooking has been a passion of mine since the age of twelve. I love that I can start cooking, whether at home or in a professional environment, and within minutes become completely absorbed in my work. Still, regardless of how happy cooking makes me, nothing is more enjoyable, or gives me more purpose, than making someone else happy through food.
What cookbooks and/or food-related reading material do you draw inspiration from?
I love reading David Chang's quarterly food journal, Lucky Peach, because he goes deep on a single topic with a chef's eye. Each issue is like a book. My bookshelf is also full of stuff from Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Michel Richard and Charlie Trotter.