Fork Medicine

Friends pitch in when chef falls ill

The restaurant business is full of headaches for owners. For Robert McGrath, the daily aches and pains were indicators of something much more serious. McGrath, chef-owner of Scottsdale's Roaring Fork, has recently returned to work after battling viral encephalitis, a serious infection that causes acute inflammation of the brain.

It's a rare ailment, usually brought on by something as simple as a mosquito bite, and often the primary symptoms are simply a persistent headache and fatigue. But if left untreated, it is potentially life-threatening.

McGrath says he has no idea where the infection came from, but he is now "doing great" and back in his restaurant most nights.

The timing couldn't have been worse. The illness cut into McGrath's enjoyment of being named Best Chef in the Southwest at the James Beard awards ceremony this spring. It was a long-awaited coup: he had been nominated for the category six times before.

And if the Valley's restaurant community can be cutthroat competitive, it wasn't in this case. McGrath says he was overwhelmed with the support he received from fellow restaurateurs.

"There were people volunteering to help at the restaurant," he notes. "To help my wife, to cook, to baby-sit -- hell, Eddie Matney even picked up a cooking class at Sur le Table to cover me for my obligation there without a whimper. I'm very grateful."

Welcome back, Robert.

Roy-al Treatment: At least one server at Roy's of Scottsdale is upset enough about a sudden change in employee benefits that he has quit the ultra-trendy Pacific Rim eatery. Until last month, Roy's staffers enjoyed a 50 percent discount on all their off-duty meals, including wine. Now, they pay full price.

"Managers got 100 percent discounts," the ex-waiter notes, "and they were using it so much that I guarantee their costs (to the restaurant) were higher than the combined total of all the other employees."

As in retail shops, employee discounts are fairly common in the restaurant industry. Many eateries offer 30 to 50 percent off for off-duty staff. Many also throw in complimentary meals for servers setting up pre-dinner, but not Roy's, says the former waiter.

"At other places, the chef will toss some burgers on the grill, or let us make a sandwich or salad. Roy's management says that's inconvenient for the kitchen. They won't even let us eat the bread."

So Long, Schnitzel: Felsen Haus has been sold to Oregano's Pizza Bistro. The popular German restaurant at 10th Street and Camelback had been a Valley fixture for more than 20 years.

 
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