Jacques Qualin has been lauded as one of the Valley’s best chefs at one of Arizona’s most well-known restaurants: J&G Steakhouse at The Phoenician. The French-born Qualin, who now lives in Phoenix, insists on the highest quality ingredients, many sourced locally. The 44-year-old is a veteran chef who has been cooking professionally since the age of 16. Read on for what inspires his menus and to watch a video of why he loves living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I came from New York to open J&G Steakhouse. The parent company was based in New York City, and I came here five years ago. I had never been to the Southwest, so I wanted to see it. I was born in Montbeliard, France and moved to New York in the ’90s. I like the States a lot because living here is very different.
What’s your first memory of being interested in cooking?
I was young and influenced by my mother — maybe I was 12. It was a passion, and soon after, it became my job. My mom could do some really great classic recipes. And living in the countryside, I was always finding or catching ingredients, such as mushrooms, herbs, fruits, and fish or game we would have for dinner.
What’s your typical week like?
Working all day, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., five days a week, sometimes six.
What do you attribute to your success?
Consistency, quality and location. The Phoenician is one of the best views in the city. It’s gorgeous. And being always on the top of the quality of the products we serving.
How would you characterize the Arizona dining scene?
You can’t really compare it to New York, but it’s a growing mixed market. There are more neighborhood places and a lot of resorts, which bring a seasonal crowd looking for regional ingredients. There are many influences food-wise and a lot of good chefs.
Who have been some of your most memorable diners?
How would you characterize yourself as a leader in the kitchen?
Leading by example. Also, being consistent is very important in the kitchen, and we do it as a team.
What do you look for when you’re hiring for your kitchen?
You are trying to build up a team and use everyone’s styles. Everyone has a task and has to work, and you want people to come together. It’s bringing together different mentalities and skills to achieve the goal you expect.
What is your favorite item on your menu right now?
We have some very, very good meat. Right now, I’m doing a special with some buffalo from South Dakota, and I really enjoy that.
We have nice oysters, too. I’m getting some spiny lobster from Catalina that are so fresh. We’re doing a beautiful swordfish.
What are your favorite ingredients?
I love cilantro, ginger and cheese. Use cilantro in chicken samosas.
What’s your least favorite ingredient?
I don’t like okra.
What tips do you have for at-home cooks?
You have to be careful of your temperature, and be careful with recipes. Sometimes, it’s better to go with your common sense.
What’s your favorite local ingredient at farmers markets?
Beets. They’re very good for you. Right now, I’m doing a sweet and sour beet risotto.
What’s your thought process like when you’re conceiving a new recipe?
You start with the ingredients and work around those. You want to try to show the taste of the ingredients and how they bring up their flavors in harmony.
What are your goals?
To improve my shooting skills in competition and have more time to hunt. I love to cook and want to stay a chef.
What are your favorite restaurant in the Valley?
I like unPhogettable. I like to go to a vegan place called Fresh Mint. I like small operations, but of course, I like big chefs like Chris Bianco. His pizza is great. I like True Food. I like Nobuo and Hana (Japanese Eatery.)
What advice would you have for someone who wants to be a chef?
(Laughing) Do something else. A lot of people get disappointed, because cooking at home is one thing. When you are in the professional world, there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of stress. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of hard work. It’s not a nine-to-five job, so you have to be consistently “in.” Find a good chef you can learn from.
Would you like to open your own restaurant in Arizona?
That might be a possibility someday.
Why would you encourage people to come eat your food?
It’s a gorgeous place. At night, it’s amazing, with the lighting and the view. We have live music, so that’s always a plus.
People come to have a good time, to celebrate, to have a good meal. The service is very knowledgeable. We have a very extensive wine list.