Interview with Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak’s Executive Chef Kenneth Arneson
A few months back, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kenneth Arneson, Executive Chef of Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak after the menu at Hole-in-the-Wall was revamped. Since he’s such a nifty guy, we wanted to do a follow-up to dig a little deeper. Chef Ken joined Pointe Hilton less than a year ago (October of 2010) and has been unstoppable since. To date, he’s one of the most genuine, easy-going chefs we’ve had the opportunity to meet. Killer sense of humor too –just read his answers below, you’ll see! Next time you’re in the mood for some smokehouse grub, pay him a visit and meet him yourself!
Interview with Executive Chef Kenneth Arneson, Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak:
Amy Martin: You’ve worked as the Chef for House of Blues. Is music a big motivator for you?
Chef Kenneth Arneson: Absolutely! Whenever we are in the weeds or getting crushed by a wave of tickets, you can usually bet that I will be singing or whistling something to keep my rhythm — either a song from the 80’s or a tune from the original “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Amy Martin: What are you currently listening to most?
Chef Ken: For some odd reason I have been listening to a lot of the old 80-90’s hair bands like Def Leppard, Motley Crue, etc, which is scary because I hated them back in the day. This could be the early signs of a mid-life crisis.
Amy Martin: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing right now?
Chef Ken: A carpenter. I always wanted to build my own home. I have always been good with my hands, and watching two generations of Chefs before me (my dad and grandfather), this was the last thing I wanted to do. But I loved food, so it grew on me very quickly.
Amy Martin: Is there any culinary trend that you’ve grown tired of?
Chef Ken: Chafing dishes is a culinary trend I’m tired of, because they’re big, bulky and ugly. The other is sodium alginate, used for making flavored faux caviar and other culinary unmentionables. If you don’t know what it is, you shouldn’t eat it. The last is liquid nitrogen. Do you really think it’s that much better if you freeze it right before you eat it? I just held your food with thick rubber gloves, would you like another?
Amy Martin: Is there one specific item that would never be found in your kitchen, whether at work or home?
Chef Ken: Minute Rice. Nothing in life should only take a minute.
Amy Martin: Would you consider yourself an adventurous eater? Are there any foods you won’t touch?
Chef Ken: I try to keep an open mind to everything. My philosophy is “I’ve got to try it at least once.” If I don’t like it, I store it in the old memory bank…like fermented black bean curd, never again. I would sooner choke on a spoon than put that stuff anywhere near my mouth.
Amy Martin: What’s in your freezer at home right now?
Chef Ken: Southwestern chicken sausage from Sprouts (love that stuff), Dreyer’s vanilla and caramel sea salt ice cream (I could probably take down a half gallon by myself), Dove Bars (they’re like doggie treats for kids), and homemade pesto (basil grows like weeds during the summertime in my garden).
Amy Martin: Everyone has a secret “guilty pleasure” snack. What’s yours? Spill!
Chef Ken: Warm Krispy Kremes. You know what I mean, the ones you get right off the belt. Krispy Kreme has amazing salespeople – they give you a warm one for free and before you know it, you’re walking out with four dozen that you refuse to share with anyone because you are convinced you can finish eating them all before they cool down. Not that I have ever done that, it was my “friend.” Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Amy Martin: Your beverage of choice?
Chef Ken: Crown and Coke, because it’s a brilliant combination of flavors, and you sound cool when you order it at the bar. “A Crown and Coke please.” See, don’t you feel cooler?
Amy Martin: What are your fondest food memories from childhood? What did you love to eat growing up?
Chef Ken: Build your own Top Ramen. Growing up in Hawaii with a big family, we would make masterpieces with ramen noodles. My favorite was one packet of shrimp ramen and one pork ramen, topped with scrambled eggs, bean sprouts, fried spam, and chopped scallions. I still make it to this day. My kids call it the “Bowl of Papa Noodles.”
Amy Martin: Last I spoke with you, you mentioned one of your daughters is quite the little food critic. What are some of her favorite dishes at the resort that receive her 100% approval?
Chef Ken: That’s funny you remember that. She just wrote a piece on her new “Little Spot of Heaven,” Firehouse Subs in east Mesa. It’s a sandwich shop owned by firemen. I’m not sure if I should be concerned. At Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak, she loves the Hole-in-the-Wall restaurant. Her favorite is our eight-hour smoked pulled pork sandwich with jalapeno coleslaw and Buffalo fried onions.
Amy Martin: Any favorite local restaurants?
Chef Ken: Thai Patio is Mesa is a favorite. Sometimes I think that I must be part Thai because I could probably eat Thai food everyday and never get tired of it. They do a great job there. I would say they are a weekly indulgence, borderline necessity, depending on how rough of a week I had.
Amy Martin: Do you ever watch any celebrity chef cooking shows? If so, which are your favorites?
Chef Ken: Top Chef and Chopped…real chefs showcasing real talent in real high pressure situations. Although the setting is different, the pressure to perform the same plate of perfection, ticket after ticket, is what chefs deal with everyday.
Amy Martin: Can you tell us about one of your worst kitchen “disasters”?
Chef Ken: The opening night of Matisse Restaurant, my fine dining French Restaurant in Manhattan Beach, CA, was my worst kitchen disaster. I had a 1600 degree searing broiler that barely reached 200 degrees, a brand new dishwasher that broke, burnt Demi because my cook thought he was doing me a favor by bringing it to a boil, no seafood because my vendor couldn’t find the restaurant, a full restaurant with no POS system because it crashed right before service, and last, but not least, my steward quit because I asked him to wash dishes by hand till the dishwasher got fixed. On the bright side I managed not to kill anyone and 220 happy customers left that night. At least that’s what I thought until the next day when I discovered the power of Yelp. But we recovered and the restaurant became very successful.
Amy Martin: If you could orchestrate your last meal, what would it consist of and where would it be?
Chef Ken: It would be on a beach in Hawaii. The menu would definitely include diver scallops with lobster ratatouille (one of my best dishes at Matisse), oxtail and barley stuffed calamari, Chilean sea bass with white truffle and melted heirlooms, seared foie gras with strawberry and black fig preserve, butterfish wrapped with pork belly and ty leaf and lastly, a warm brownie with vanilla bean gelato.
For more info about Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak and its restaurants, visit squawpeakhilton.com.
Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak | 7677 North 16th Street | Phoenix, AZ | 85020