Everybody has to start somewhere. For Hacienda del Lago executive chef Janet Jones, that place was the Burger King at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
After BK, and following assorted front-of-house positions, business school, and then culinary school, Jones worked at Zona 78. She learned about passion and presentation under chef Kevin Fink, who has since moved to Austin to open the nationally-acclaimed Emmer & Rye.
Lastly, Jones worked her way up from line cook to sous chef and finally executive chef at Hacienda del Lago with her right-hand lady Stacy Vernooy as sous chef.
1) What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
My grandmother’s pancit bihon, which is a Filipino noodle dish. I was six or seven and she made a huge dinner. That was the dish that really struck a chord with me.
2) What are you eating these days?
Noodles. Lots of noodles, like pho, ramen, both hot and cold. I’ve been playing around with all kinds of fresh ingredients and making ramen at home. Ramen and pho are comfort foods for me.
3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?
The first dish I really made for my family was Maryland blue crabs. I was nervous and so excited to make them — the hardest part was killing them for me and I read about how to do everything for a couple hours before I had to dispatch them. My mom got a huge kick out of the whole thing.
4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?
For the past few months I’ve really been into fermentation. I’ve been going to Ermanos Craft Beer & Wine Bar where Matt and I have been playing with different local and seasonal ingredients, making fermented hot sauces, and using them for drinks and dressings. Also right now I am starting to read into reclamation gardens. We’ve have started our own compost bin to reduce waste from the restaurant.
5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
René Redzepi. He really immerses himself in all of the places where his pop-up restaurants occur with the ingredients that they have to utilize. He pulls out the flavors from those places and educates everyone as he does. He has such a broad view of a kitchen and all the ways he can make the food and experience perfect for the guest.
6) What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
Seattle. They have a fantastic food culture. I was there for four days while cooking for my mother’s wedding and the last day was my free day to play in the city and explore. I took both of my siblings, who are also in the industry but in the front-of-house, and we went to five different restaurants. Every single one was fantastic. We ate the best slow-braised octopus with chorizo, crème fraîche and seasonal charred vegetables. Amazing.
7) Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Nachos, I love them. We do pepper jack cheese sauce nachos at our restaurant and everything on them is made in-house. I eat them far more than I should.
8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?
OBON Sushi Bar Ramen is number one. It’s my favorite place to eat or take someone visiting Tucson. The food and drinks are killer. Ermanos’ baba ghanoush is amazing, I just randomly crave it and their summer peach board blew me away. I’m not a big sweets person but it was the perfect balance of light, rich, and sweet. And then Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink for my pizza cravings. The chef’s specials that they do are always on point.
9) With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
My mom’s meatloaf. She was a horrible cook when I was growing up, my dad was the cook. But the one thing she could make was the best meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Every time she comes to visit I ask her to make it. She usually just looks at me and laughs. She since has improved and is a fantastic cook now.