FOOD: Cooking Outside the Box: Chatting With Chef Jason Peterson at Phoenix’s Switch

Nestled between two restaurants in Downtown Phoenix is a place you wouldn’t find unless you were looking for it. No elaborate sign or  bright lights. No gimmicks of any kind, in fact when you walk in, the blue interior and dim lights makes one feel almost exclusive. The section of leather arm chairs just adds to the lounge type feel of the restaurant. It’s called Switch, and let me tell you, it’s worth finding.

Switch is a continental fusion restaurant that truly has something for any foodie. Their menu boasts a plentiful choice of wines, spirits and unique food. Braised beef that melts in your mouth; macaroni oozing with cheese; crepes so soft and fluffy you’d think they came straight from heaven. Ironic enough, when you meet the man behind the food, he looks more like he belongs in the Hell’s Angels than making food fit for a deity.

Cheese and Fruit Palte

[Our waiter, Ted, described the Cottswold as cheese smothered in Ranch. So true, so delish!]

But looks can be deceiving, as this Harley riding, tatted up chef at one of Phoenix’s most prominent restaurants, Jason Peterson, sat down to talk to me a little about Switch.

Couch Sessions: What kind of creative influence do you have over the menu?

Jason Peterson: Well I became an Executive Chef here about three years ago. Some of the things on the menu where here when I took over, and if I removed them I would probably get strung up on the corner. And I know that, and I know what the guests like, we’ve made improvements and tweaks on everything. There’s not one thing on the menu that doesn’t have my hand in it somewhere, even if its a dish that was designed before I got here.

The waiter was telling us you change the menu about twice a year.

Yea, we try to do a winter and a summer menu. Summer menu tend to be a little bit lighter. Our winter menu a little bit heavier, a little more entree heavy. And once a month we choose our value special our local friendly special, and that’s a solid monthly special, people know they can get it all month long. It’s never more than $8.95. Right now I didn’t want to do a Christmas special, so we’re doing a Mayan Dooms Day Stew. Everything in the stew is indicative of what would have been eaten by the ancient Mayans.  So there’s butternut squash and sweet potato and poblano peppers, ancho chiles and chocolate. The running joke being that we are only going to be serving it until the 21st. Every Friday we do an Alaskan Cod fish and chips with jalapeno tartar sauce for lunch, which is not advertised purposefulness and the one Friday in the last 12 weeks we didn’t run it, and people were asking about it.

You can probably tell that our price point sits a little low, and we feel like if we work a little bit harder we can still find interesting quality items to offer our guests without killing them in the price. We feel like we can offer a little better value than alot of places.

How would you classify your food, style wise?

Well I was born in Virginia, so we are a little pork-centric. It’s kinda hard to say, I would say “Eclectic America”. After all what is American food, but a mix of what people have brought here. We have Asian and Mexican influences on there… American Funky maybe…

How about “Groovy?”

There you go, Groovy American, I like that.

Other than here, whats your favorite place to go eat? 

Phoenix right now has a great emerging food scene… the best in the valley for me, probably even the state, is Kevin Binkley, with Binkley’s Restaurant in Cave Creek.  Clearly one of the best trained, most creative Chefs I’ve seen.

Are you classically trained? 

I am. I did not go to culinary school. I started this 22 years ago. I was in college and I really really disliked ramen noodles. And so I got a job in a lousy Mexican chain restaurant pretty much to eat. The bartender thought I had some  talent and he introduced me to two gentlemen who were the owner and chef trained in the Cordon Bleu in Paris. I worked with them and in a short time I knew I had found what I wanted to do. I dropped out of college and started a formal apprenticeship. This was 22 years ago.  There was no Food Network, it was not seen as a glamorous job. Now the rest of the world has caught up with me.

To learn more about Switch, visit their website or visit Chef Jason and head over to 2603 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ.