Bad Boy In The Kitchen

This article is from March 2017 but Chef Stephen Jones has recently opened up his new restaurant The Larder + The Delta in Downtown Phoenix.

200 west Portland st #101

Phoenix, Arizona 85003

Sitting down at the bar with Chef Stephen Jones, he pokes his fork into the escargot and tells me about his days growing up. “Even as a little kid, I remember being in the kitchen at my parent’s feet, trying to get in on the action. If somebody was outside grilling, I would make my way out there and see what was going on.” He pops the snail into his mouth and tells me how his son, Noah, does the same thing. He pushes an escargot around his plate and continues. “Even though food was a huge part of my life, football was something that I wanted to do, and I thought I was going to do it forever.” After an injury that took him out of the game, he ended up finding his way into culinary school. “Cooking has always been second nature to me, it made sense, and it felt right.” We’re interrupted by several people that know Chef Jones and who congratulate him on his recent win on the Food Network’s TV Show, Guy’s Grocery Games. Further proving how talented Chef Jones is and how fortunate we are that life opened the door to his cooking career. “By this point, I had been doing a lot of experimenting in the kitchen. I was learning a ton.” He laughs. “But there was plenty of bad food and lots of burning things.” I ask him at what point did he realize his food had gone from bad to good. He takes a bite from a chicken wing followed by a sip of whiskey. “I had always felt pretty decent about the food I was preparing, but this one night when I was cooking up dinner for a family, I went out of my element and tried cooking seafood. I was nervous. I had made a huge mess in the kitchen and was cleaning it up while they were eating.” He takes another sip, “They kept coming into the kitchen and saying how amazing it was. At first, I thought they were just being kind, but they started asking technical questions, and at that point, I knew they were being honest, and I knew I had something that I could be good at.” Chef Jones looks at my empty plate. He tells me how much he loves cooking, and how it fits him perfectly like that new pair of underwear or socks. I get the sense he really wants me to know how crazy he is for food, but I understand all too well. “I think about food all the time,” he says. “Me too,” I respond.

After we finish a delicious churro and chocolate mole dessert, He shares a special recipe that’s dear to his heart and one you’ll always find on his menu at The Larder & The Delta. “The Hoppin’ John is a special recipe to me. It’s something growing up that my grandma made for us. It reminds me of her and my past and it means more to me as she gets older.” I discover there’s a deeper meaning and history to this recipe. He clears his throat. “When I got older, I started to understand what it was and what it meant from the standpoint of a cultural thing and for our family. Hoppin’ John was slave food. You also ate it for the new year, and it was meant to bring good luck.” Jones recalls the time he spent with his family, and about his youth. “When you talk about slave food and what that means and what it is. Old slave food, Southern food, and American food are one in the same. These recipes were created in the kitchens of the masters because guess who was doing all the cooking?” His expression is one you might see on a proud father as he tells me how the recipe’s been carried down from generation to generation. “It hasn’t changed, and this recipe is probably 60 years old or maybe more. I do crisp up the rice though, and that’s not traditional but delicious.” Chef Jones sits back in his chair and takes another sip. You can tell how humble and grateful he is. “It is such a simple dish where the ingredients speak for themselves. When I eat it, it takes me back to a time and a place and a moment when I was a kid. When I eat it, I think about what happened and how this one dish fed so many people back in the day. This is my small way of keeping that story alive.”

Desoto Central Market 915 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004

Hoppin’ John 6 Servings

6 cups anson mills carolina gold rice (cooked) 4 cups anson mills sea island red peas (soaked in filtered water & tsp of salt overnight) 8 fresh bay leaves 1 cup holy trinity (see recipe below) 1 tsp. cayenne pepper 2 tsp. ol bay 1 Tbsp. canola oil 5 Tbsp. scallions (thinly sliced) Salt & Pepper to taste ½ cup pickled celery leafs (from the heart of the celery bunch, the golden yellow leafs)

Holy Trinity yield: 1 cup

4 celery stalks (very small dice) 1 yellow onion (very small dice) 2 green bell pepper (very small dice) 6 cloves of garlic (minced into paste) 1 jalapeno (seeded, cut into very small dice. Non-traditional)

Sea Island Red Peas (actual cooking liquid)

Vegetable Stock to cover 3 in above the peas 2 heads Garlic cut at the root end, left whole with outer skin removed 1 Green Bell Pepper Seeds removed 1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes 1 Yellow Jumbo Onion cut in half 2 Carrots peeled and left whole 4-5 bay leaves (very important that they’re fresh) 1 sprig Fresh Thyme Salt & Pepper to taste

Cooking Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice:

Using a large sauce pot combine rice, bay leafs, large pinch of salt, fill with 2qts of water, bring to a simmer, place lid on and cook for 5 mins. Then shut off heat and let sit for 14 mins untouched. Remove lid (be careful as steam will escape rapidly), fluff with a fork, place onto parchment or wax paper lined sheet pan (cookie sheet) to cool for at least 10mins, 1 hr would be best.

Assembly:

Working with a cast iron pan, place over medium heat and let pan heat up for 5 mins, add a thin layer of canola oil to pan, then add cooked rice in single layer and let cook until rice begins to caramelize but not burn, roughly 7-8 mins cooking time before you begin to get color. You’re looking for a nice amber color, not burnt. While the rice is crisping up, place the Sauté pan over a burner on medium heat for 2-3 mins. Then add a nice thin layer of canola oil to the pan, then add the trinity and season with salt, pepper and cayenne and ol’ bay mix . Then continue to cook for 2-3 mins, as the garlic becomes fragrant, add the peas tossing to coat them. While peas are simmering check rice and season just with black pepper and a little of the Ol bay mixture, let rice continue to cook until that amber color is achieved. Once rice has achieved that golden color, combine with the peas and toss the two together. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Garnish with chive blossoms and the yellow celery leaves.

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