“I’m a fiery guy with a strong passion for who I am and what I want.”
has cooked for him Dalai Lamalectured on Oklahoma backwoods cuisine, directed the banquet program at the legendary Coronado Hotel in San Diego, and made fried squirrel at the Smithsonian Institution during National Food History Weekend in Washington, DC
to say that jason flowers has a diverse background would be an understatement. It may explain why this chef who describes his culinary outlook as “redneck-chic” was a perfect fit when Loews Ventana Canyon Resort recently introduced him as their new executive chef.
Although Flores graduated from Tony’s culinary school nearly 20 years ago, his food journey began as a child in rural Oklahoma learning to hunt, farm and forage from his grandparents.
“Everything we ate was from the garden, from the farm and from the waters,” Flores said. “I think I was a teenager when I ate store-bought meat for the first time.”
He recalls being compensated for his hard work on the farm, but not in loose change, candy, or other child-focused currency. “My grandmother paid me with pickled beets; she was my payment as well as my deal.”
Flores finally applied to culinary school after spending some time in Oklahoma State University. When he received the news of his acceptance into the Scottsdale Culinary InstituteHe sold almost everything he owned, and with the bus ticket his parents gave him, he made the 36-hour trip from that farm in Oklahoma to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.
“I was left in front of Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe with two bags and sixty dollars,” Flores said. “I had sold my car, I had sold my original Atari 2600 with a bunch of games, I guess you’d call it a passion for cooking,” he joked.
His first concert outside of school was at Tucson’s JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa. is where she met ken harveyhis first boss, who is his boss today after Harvey’s recent promotion from executive chef to director of food and beverage at Loews Ventana Canyon.
Flores called it “closing the loop.”
“Ken and I grew up about four hours apart, and even though we didn’t know each other as kids, we have that ‘local boy’ thing and we really hit it off,” Flores said. “I’m a fiery guy with a strong passion for who I am and what I want, and I think Ken is exactly the same.”
With that first position under his belt, Flores went on to work at various properties, including the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, DoubleTree Downtown Tulsa, Coronado Hotel, Hilton Sedona Resort in Bell Rock, and others. He owned an event and catering business, he earned his pitmaster certification from smithfieldranked first in the National Pork Council Taste of Elegance Pork Contestand received the coveted Gold Key for exhibiting an exceptional “Spirit to Serve” for Marriott International.
In previous positions, Flores’ goal was to be “the dumbest in the room” and not go anywhere other than, as he called it, easy.
“I always wanted to be in a place where I didn’t know if I was going to make it or if I deserved to be there,” Flores said. “I’m just a country boy and I knew the work that was required, and the lessons that he needed to learn, if he was ever going to be an executive chef.”
One of the highlights of this journey was just four years ago when he was among six executive chefs invited to participate in National Food History Weekend at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. He was on a panel that discussed “the blurring of culinary lines in the United States based on the way we travel.”
Which brings me back to that fried squirrel.
“As part of the weekend show, they wanted me to showcase my home cooking, which is Oklahoma-style cookouts,” Flores said, “and it was on their big stage that I made fried squirrel with a sauce pan. and white cheddar cheese crackers.”
While I was curious if it tasted like chicken, I resisted the pedestrian question and just moved on.
Flores noted that Oklahoma didn’t become a state until 1907 and much of it remains wild and open even today. “Wild and wide open defines country cooking at home,” he said. “I grew up near the foothills of the Ozarks, with tons of lakes, rivers, mountains and trees, and people survived by hunting and fishing. Keeping foods like venison steaks in the freezer was forks a pretty normal thing.”
So how does Flores hope to connect his unique experience and passion with his new position as executive chef at Loews Ventana Canyon?
“Southwestern cuisine is something I fell in love with when I first came to Arizona in 2004,” Flores said. “The flavor profiles go with the way I like to cook. And I think the wide open spaces of the desert give me the opportunity to do what I’ve done all my life, and that is take inspiration from the land, the air I breathe and the things I can see.”
Now that he has fully taken over the resort’s culinary programming, Flores hopes to complement the already world-class program with some signature touches, including a line of fermented hot sauces, some Creole-inspired dishes like shrimp and boiled crab cakes, and bring more West Coast-style barbecue to the resort’s “Blues, Brews, and BBQ” brunch, perhaps with tri-tip steaks and seaweed smoke.
And finally, now that you’re at the peak of your culinary career, you might be able to buy back that old Atari 2600.
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is located at 7000 N. Resort Dr. For more information, visit loewshotels.com.