Second Helpings

Gross Out?: Right now, chef Christopher Gross, the acclaimed culinary heavyweight behind two of the Valley's best, and best-known, restaurants, Christopher's and Christopher's Bistro, is cruising with his wife Paola off the coast of Latin America. I don't know what kind of weather they're currently experiencing. But they can expect to hit some rough seas when they return to Phoenix next week.

That's because a rift--maybe a gulf--seems to have developed between the Grosses and longtime partner and financial backer Guy Coscas.

The rumors about the possible breakup of this successful partnership have been simmering in the foodie community for a while. But Coscas has chosen this moment to bring the simmer up to a full boil.

He's upset and concerned about his promotion-minded chef's many absences from the kitchen. "He wasn't here, I counted, about four or five months out of the past year," Coscas lamented in beguiling, French-accented English that hasn't been softened by 20 years in Phoenix. "I'm not happy because he's not around."

Coscas worries that Gross' frequent departures may begin to affect the quality of what comes out of the award-winning kitchen. Recently, Coscas has been encouraging Gross to tweak the menus a bit, suggesting he add a touch of fusion cooking to the restaurants' French-continental sensibility. After all, Coscas reasons, in the restaurant business, "not to change is to die." But Coscas complains that Gross has been too busy promoting himself to give the necessary effort in the kitchen. "Alors, he works on his name and for himself," Coscas complains.

While Coscas may be displeased with Gross' lapses of kitchen attention and his international pursuit of chef celebrityhood, he has a high regard for Gross personally. He calls him "a hard worker," "gracious" and "a fantastic guy."

That regard, however, doesn't extend to Gross' wife, Paola, who has been running the restaurants' extensive wine cellar for the past several years. If ever there was a case of cherchez la femme, this seems to be it.

Coscas doesn't hold back. "I don't like her," he says simply, and you can practically hear him shrugging his Gallic shoulders over the telephone. "I have a problem with Paola. This is true, and I say it with no hesitation." Although Coscas didn't supply any specifics, it's clear that he feels she has been taking advantage of her marital status to disrupt the partnership.

Other significant change is already under way at the two restaurants. Longtime chef de cuisine Matt Carter has given notice and is packing his bags. And foodies are buzzing that Gross has been talking with a well-known local entrepreneur about opening a swanky place along Scottsdale's new canal project.

The Grosses are due back in town sometime in mid-December. When they arrive, I suggest everyone be quiet and listen carefully. That way, we'll all be able to hear what exactly is hitting the fan at the corner of 24th Street and Camelback.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at hseftel@newtimes.com or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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