What does a guy who grew up working construction in his father’s Tucson concrete company do when he develops an adulthood passion for cured meats? If he’s Jason Dwight of Persepshen, he becomes a chef and eventually builds out his own restaurant in the quirky ’60s-era space in Phoenix that formerly housed Hula’s Modern Tiki. Steps in between? Dwight met his wife, Katherine (who runs the restaurant’s baking program), in culinary school at Scottsdale Community College and cooked a five-course meal for 120 people at their wedding (“Not the best idea,” he now admits), served on vintage dinnerware he uses in the restaurant today. He earned his cooking chops at Binkley’s in Cave Creek (Katherine honed her skills at MJ Bread) before the two of them began selling homemade pickles, jams, baked goods and “pig sticks” from a WWII-era trailer at the Uptown Farmers Market. He’s proud of what the two of them have created at Persepshen, ruefully adding, “It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears – literally.”
Every modern restaurant needs a convo piece. In his frequent drives to Payson for firewood, Dwight noticed the skeleton of a beautiful (but very dead) juniper tree, which he dragged off a mountain, hooked up with Edison bulbs – attached to rope he braided himself – and hung from the ceiling.
2 Main Table
Friend and neighbor Bill Hemphill of Industrial/Craftsman Furniture helped Dwight build a massive community table from a slab of beetle-killed Arizona pine and a base made from two irrigation pumps joined by cast-iron pipe.
3 Craft Oven
Hemphill made the frame for the 20,000-pound wood-burning oven where Dwight roasts his meats and vegetables, but the chef poured the concrete, using a board-form pour, which gives the lines and look of wood. The oven’s front bears the impression of an old door.
4 The Bar
Hemphill framed the short bar (primo seating overlooking the tiny exhibition kitchen) and Dwight rolled its copper top. Its base is made of gnarly mushroom wood – hemlock and cypress used in mushroom growing beds and damaged by moisture. Its purse hooks are old electric conductors.
5 Curing RooM
The windowed curing chamber, which Dwight also built, stores the house-made coppa, prosciutto, salumi and guanciale that he makes for the restaurant – skills he acquired as head butcher at Publican Quality Meats in
Chicago. It’s the restaurant’s second conversation piece.