By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Suck a duck, Jett, you're getting collard juice all over my brand-new kicks!" I yelp as the AC/DC Gabrielle Union spoons some greens into her kisser. "I just got these K-Swiss at Steven's Shoes, you crazy chickenhead."
"Mmmm, these truffled collards are delish," she moans, as if in heat. "And the salmon on top of them is so yummy, I'm ready to bone the chef."
"Keep your sweaty paws off chef Cullen Campbell," I warn, referring to the culinary wizard responsible for the delicacies we're downin' at The Loft in Tempe on this fine Friday night. "I wanna try the Krispy Kreme bread pudding mentioned on his menu before you rape him."
"Look what the kitchen just sent out, Kreme," squeals the J-Unit, as the waitress hands us some champagne flutes and a little flowerpot filled with French fries. "Pommes frites and bubbles! I'm going to go thank Cullen."
Before I chase the Jettster into the back and save the twentysomething Campbell from some dreaded social disease, I should explain that we're in the midst of this funktified Friday night called StraightNoChaser (www.snc-az.com), named after the famous album of the same name by jazz great Thelonious Monk. Think of it as a sophisticated, urban downtown sort of eve, jumpin' off in The Loft, just west of Mill on Fifth Street -- though the address actually reads 420 South Mill Avenue -- a dope number if you've got a bong collection.
That's right, Mill, y'all. The stretch better known for clubs that blast Limp Bizkit and smell like warm co-ed puke. "Welcome to the Valley of the Lame," the signs should read. But promoter Joe DiPadova is attempting to change all that, bringing live music to Mill, and mixing it with live art, killer DJs, wine-tastings and a resident chef for the evening -- the new object of Jett's lust, who whips up a special menu every week like a mix-master spinning a scrumptious set.
"It's a concept I developed to include all the things I love -- food, wine, music," explained DiPadova before the Jettster and I began gobblin' and guzzlin'. "It's a different concept for Mill. Generally, people who hang out on Mill don't like to come in here. And yet there are a lot of people who like going to other diverse things elsewhere who are starting to find out about us. We have live jazz bands, live funk bands, DJs and all that. But the vibe is always the same: chill, kick back. Cullen's the night's chef, but we want to bring in guest chefs, too, eventually."
DiPadova's a tall, slightly scruffy dood who's always rockin' an "I ♥ Phoenix" tee, and thrives on orchestrating an eclectic sort of synergy in da club. In fact, at the moment I'm runnin' after Jett into the cocina, the bar is jammed downstairs with a passel of fly folks groovin' on this super-fly funk-soul-rock sextet called Calumet (www.calumetmusic.com), a local group that migrated to the PHX from Calumet City, Illinois, outside of Chi-town. They're playing original stuff, and I haven't heard bass and vocals this thick and thumpin' since George Clinton and Bootsy Collins were flyin' the P-Funk mothership. But back to Calumet in a moment. Right now, I have to pull the Jettster off the house hash-slinger.
I rush past the swinging doors into a claustrophobic kitchen, and there's the J-girl, rubbin' up on the poor fella as he's trying to prepare another plate of braised beef short ribs with Brie cheese grits. I'm not sure which Jett's gonna pounce on first, the food or the foodie.
"I'd love to taste your beef," she's tellin' him. "And kiss your grits while I'm at it."
"At long last, have you no shame, you Jett-zabel -- wait a sec, did you say grits?" I ask.
"That's correct," says Campbell, answering for my slutty sidekick. "I'm from Tennessee originally, and I'm trying to develop this idea that's new to this area of traditional Southern cooking mixed with traditional French cooking. That's why I did the salmon dish with braised collard greens, bacon, a little truffle, and a brown sugar tomato broth. And the short ribs with the grits."
"Why, we're practically related!" I exclaim, putting my arm around this maestro of munchies. "I was wondering about that Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Only someone from down South would dream that one up. You know, they started out in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, not far from where I'm from. And of course, it's the source of my nom de par-tay."
"Yeah, I used about two dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts to make one pan of bread pudding," relates Campbell, who used to be the chef at House of Tricks and now does the pizza thing over at La Grande Orange. "That's why I like doing this night. It's a chance to do something on my own and be more creative, which is really nice."
I haul the Jettster back outside, where Campbell brings us a slice of his bread pudding drizzled with a chocolate coffee sauce. I'm in fat-boy heaven, and tell Campbell as much before he heads back into the kitchen. Calumet has finished its set and is breaking down its equipment as the DJs for the night, resident DJ Brazilia and this L.A. DJ Jeremy Sole (www.musaics.com), fire it up. They take turns, dropping some Brazilian tracks, roller boogie, rare groove, Afrobeat, and about a dozen more styles of music besides. It takes a sec for the transition to kick in, but then people are feelin' it.