On the morning that Todd Hall realized his life was falling apart, he was lying on the couch watching cartoons with his two younger children, Todd Cody, who was 17 months old, and John, who was 4. His two older children were off playing with friends, and Hall was about to get ready to go to work at the swanky 8700 restaurant in Scottsdale.
Hall was the self-proclaimed bad boy of good food, at age 30 a talented young chef with a couple of prestigious national awards under his toque. He'd been at a half-dozen upscale Phoenix restaurants in as many years, not unusual for a chef on the fast track. But Hall had burned every bridge he'd ever crossed, and his career and personal life were about to jump completely off the track at midbridge.
Cody was a big, beautiful, dark-haired boy, just starting to speak. His father put him down from his lap, said, "Gotta be a working man," and headed for the bathroom for a shower. Hall's wife, Stacey, went to another room to iron her husband's chef's coat.
When Stacey brought the newly pressed coat to the bedroom, she saw John, the 4-year-old, cowering beneath the covers of the bed with a peculiar look on his face. She noticed the open door and knew something was wrong.
Stacey raced out to the backyard and her heart fluttered when she saw Cody at the bottom of the pool. He had followed his big brother outside, watched him climb the pool fence and unlatch the gate, and then tottered over to the pool and fell in.
Stacey jumped in and, panic-stricken, tried to thrash her way to the bottom.
"I finally came to the top and screamed my heart out," she recalls.
Hall was stepping out of the shower when he heard the scream. It curdled his stomach, and he ran naked to the backyard. And when he saw Stacey in the pool, fully clothed, he knew immediately what had happened.
He had been an EMT with the volunteer fire department in Sedona and he knew what to do: cleared the water from his son's airways and breathed a father's breath into him to keep the son alive.
John kneeled silently on the other side of the pool watching his father and his brother.
Hall remembers standing, still naked, as the med-evac helicopter fwop-fwopped out of his Scottsdale backyard, a surreal scene from real life, thinking, "You have fucked up. You have committed the worst a parent can do."
That night, Todd and Stacey gave the doctors permission to turn off life support, and Cody died.
Hall ran away from life in every way he could. He never went back to the house where his son drowned. He got himself fired from 8700. He got up to his nostrils in cocaine, and when he ran out of money, he took his family and fled first to Salt Lake City and then to California, leaving behind a reputation for drug use and erratic, temperamental behavior.
"I went into a big-time state of denial," he says now. "We kept running and running and running."
And when things seemed to be heading back on track, he derailed again. Hall was shot almost to death, the victim in an attempted robbery in a seedy Fresno neighborhood.
Now, a year and a half later, after extensive psychotherapy, Todd Hall is back in Phoenix to start over.
"I can go to L.A., I can go to Vegas. I can get--tomorrow!--big bucks!" he says. "I'm coming back to clean up the mess I left."
He's not sure he'll even find a job, not sure that the high-spirited celebrity chefs at the high-end Valley restaurants will welcome him back into the culinary fraternity, not sure they'll even return his phone calls.
"I want to see if they're going to forgive me," he says.
But regardless of how badly he behaved in the past (and may behave tomorrow), none of them will criticize Todd Hall's cooking.
"They can't touch my food," he says proudly. "It comes out on time, it's hot, and it tastes fucking good."
"Life I know very little about," Todd Hall says in his usual confessional tone. But he knows everything about food.
"In cooking you learn to understand not the formulation of ingredients or procedures," he says. "You learn to understand butter. Everything that can go wrong with butter, I have personally done wrong with butter.
On a recent afternoon, he is philosophizing over three cups of soup at a trendy Spanish restaurant just off Camelback. The seafood soup he decides to save for last. He pushes the gazpacho aside, mumbling that gazpacho is supposed to be chilled and this cup is close to room temperature. The third cup holds a steaming green-brown garlic soup, and he raises a spoonful to his lips.
"It touches all four parts of your palate: salt, sweet, sour, bitter," he says in a rapid-fire drone. "When you eat that soup, which part of your palate is standing out stronger, longer?"
He swishes the soup over his overdeveloped taste buds. Curiously, the tongue can only perceive those four tastes; everything else we know about flavor comes from our sense of smell.
"It's been about ten seconds since I swallowed it," he continues, "and I still taste the roastedness of the garlic. So if I were making this soup, I'd put a little more salt in it, I'd put a little bit of balsamic vinegar in it and possibly a little bit of sugar so that you would taste sweet, sour and salt just as much as you taste the bitter [of the roasting]."
Then he digs his fork around a lovely lamb kebab dish and stabs a mushroom.
"Mushrooms and tequila and things that come from the earth taste like the earth," he says.
He pops the mushroom in his mouth, then goes on another riff. "I close my eyes and taste and see what happens. Texture is very important. It was a grilled mushroom, so the outside was very leathery, but it also enclosed it in a little case, and it's juicy. The juices just shot, an orgasm of flavor, wonderfully pleasant."
Like an orchestra conductor who can read a musical score and hear every note from every instrument in his head, similarly, Todd Hall can probe a mouthful of food and taste every nuance of heat and seasoning, and he expects his diners to share his joy of food.
People eat for many reasons, he explains, some out of compulsion or nervousness, some just out of hunger. He doesn't want to feed those people, nor does he want to feed people who kill their taste buds by getting drunk or high during dinner.
Todd Hall wants people who come to dine, that is, who eat to taste the good food he prepares and are willing to pay for it.
It's a business of excesses.
"When the market's up ten points, your dining room is full and they're buying Martha's Vineyard, which is a $200 bottle of wine, and they've got 12 people with them," he says. "When it crashes, you can't feed anyone. Things are good right now. It's a good time to be selling food."
Hall is just 34; by the time he was 29, the prestigious James Beard Foundation had already named him one of the 12 best chefs under 30 and one of the best hotel chefs, and he'd been a finalist in the equally prestigious Bocuse d'Or culinary competition, in which chefs are pitted against one another in a race against the dinner bell.
He's a handsome man, with dark Beatle bangs on his forehead, but there's a changeling nature to his face; from different angles, he looks like a different person. He's of average height, but there's a largeness to him that seems to inflate and deflate with his mood.
Chefs, he says, are "very artistic, crazy people, very emotional. We're all the same: Get four in a room, that's about three more than you need."
And sometimes being alone with Todd Hall is like being in a room crowded with chefs.
He is reactive and volatile, quick to laugh, quick to anger, at once likable, amusing, exuberant--and exhausting. He speaks a mile a minute, alternately joking, charming, challenging. He controls the conversation. He wants to know everything that everyone says about him, then play it back for them just to let them know he knows. He picks up the phone as soon as a thought crosses his mind, shoots from the lip, then calls again to talk his foot out of his mouth.
"I tend to be someone's best friend or worst enemy, instantly," he says. And sometimes he can be both alternately over the course of a week.
He remembers every headline from every review, good or bad, that he's received over the last nine years in Phoenix. He has an enormous ego, which is as important a chef's tool as a stove and saucepans.
Todd Hall claims to be bipolar, what used to be called "manic-depressive," although his psychologist quipped that he is "manic-manic" because he so seldom quiets down.
He jokes that in the morning when his children ask him for breakfast, he responds, "Not yet, I'm not done pacing."
In the kitchen of a restaurant, where everyone wants everything right away and everyone is screaming orders, such barely contained energy can be put to good use.
But Hall has never been able to slow down out of the kitchen.
"I think his horsepower outweighs the chassis," says Robert Keyes, who owns the 8700 where Hall was chef--twice. "He's had difficulty containing his talent. That'll just catch up with him, and when it does, he will be a marvelous guy."
And indeed, like a car with too much horsepower, he has raced through his career, running red lights and running over innocent bystanders.
"I went a thousand miles an hour down the wrong road," he confesses.
And he hit the wall, hard.
Todd Hall was born in 1962 to an unmarried Mormon woman in Salt Lake City. He claims that he never knew his father.
But he knew early on what, if not who, he wanted to be. In the summer after he finished ninth grade, he saw the Disney movie, Johnny Tremain, which takes place during the Revolutionary War.
In the movie, the lead character walks into Paul Revere's shop and tells him he wants so much to be a silversmith that he will work as Revere's apprentice for free.
Hall was only 15 and had an after-school job working in a Mexican restaurant. But he wanted to be a chef, so, with characteristic balls and bluster, he took Johnny Tremain's approach.
"I took the bus to the Hotel Utah, walked into the dining room, and said, 'I want to speak to the chef.'"
When Roger Cortello, the hotel's well-known chef, finally agreed to speak with him, Hall said, "I want to be your apprentice. I'll work for free."
Cortello, who is French, asked how old Hall was, and then snapped that he had already finished his own apprenticeship by the time he was 14. And he wanted to know how Hall had heard of the apprenticeship program that leads to chef accreditation--which of course, Hall had never heard of. But he agreed to take Hall on as an apprentice anyway.
Through the remainder of his high school days, Hall got up early to take community college courses, went to school, and worked in the restaurant.
"I never went to one prom or one football game in my entire high school life," he says.
He continued the college coursework after he finished high school and graduated from the apprenticeship program when he was 19, then went directly to work earning $24,000 a year.
He met Stacey at about that time. She was 16 and had just started to date when they met at a party. They have been together ever since.
"He looked like Mick Jagger," she remembers. "He already knew what he wanted to do and that really turned me on. And he had a lot of kindness, and I liked that too."
Hall walked home from the party with his dog, she says, and he told the dog that he was going to marry Stacey.
Stacey got pregnant when she was 17, dropped out of school in her senior year, married Todd, and had their first child, Chelsea.
Just as he had done everything else in his life--precociously--Todd Hall rushed into his first business failure. At age 24, he bought his first restaurant, a Salt Lake establishment called Armadillos.
"I went and bought myself $78,000 worth of back taxes," he says.
The restaurant's previous owners had disguised the extent of their debts, and when Hall inherited them, they drove him into bankruptcy. He and Stacey watched as the court auctioned off their washer and dryer and other belongings, then they loaded what was left into a U-Haul truck and headed for Phoenix, where Stacey's mother was living.
In short order, Hall landed a job as chef for La Hacienda, a restaurant under construction at the Scottsdale Princess resort.
The Princess sent him to its flagship resort in Acapulco for basic training. He spent two months in the kitchen, in the markets, and in private homes, learning about traditional Mexican food.
When Hall returned to Phoenix at the end of his Mexican tour of duty, Stacey picked him up at the airport, drove him through McDonald's to satisfy one craving, then out to Scottsdale where he satisfied another. He wanted to see how far along his new restaurant had come, and then, overcome with impulse and passion and moonlight and the promise of the future, he and Stacey made love amid the construction.
Within the year, Hall was on the fast track, moving first to the Hyatt Regency at Gainey Ranch, then 8700 in North Scottsdale, and by 1990 he was at L'Auberge de Sedona.
His restaurant reviews soared into the superlative range. Elin Jeffords, who was then writing for the Arizona Republic, gave Hall four stars for his "spontaneity meals," in which he would come out and chat with the diners, ask them what they felt like eating, and then compose something especially for the diner. Jeffords had ordered red meat.
"Chef Hall had taken a hefty chunk of beef and cut a pocket into it," she wrote, "which he then stuffed with just-cooked morels still tasting of the forest, the perfect medium-rare meat rested in a puddle of melty Danish blue cheese, strewn with mellow cloves of roasted garlic. His piece de resistance was a lid of barely seared foie gras atop the steak. It was an utterly magical combination."
By the next year, Hall had already moved to the neighboring Sedona resort, Los Abrigados, and the plaudits were accumulating. He was named a Rising Star of American Cuisine by the James Beard Foundation; in another James Beard award, Julia Child judged him to be one of the best hotel chefs in America. He won an Arizona competition in which chefs were all given the same box of foodstuffs and ask to create something on the spur of the moment.
The resort managers loved him; they leased a car for him because his credit was still reeling from bankruptcy. But all was not rosy.
"There's no doubt that he was very talented in our kitchen," says Edd Zielinski, who was his supervisor. "He was given free rein. However, he didn't have the maturity and the management skills that we required. He could tell people how to cook in the kitchen, but he wasn't a good business manager."
And, increasingly, his antics were embarrassing to the resort.
He commandeered the resort limo, for example, for a rolling, late-night beer party that visited some of the other resorts. Sedona is a world-renowned travel destination, but it is also a small town, and so Zielinski got a phone call from the chief of police.
One night at a special-event dinner, Hall prepared a course that did not go over well. He'd special-ordered wild-wood pigeons from Scotland that had been shot by hunters, then spent three and a half days removing the buckshot with tweezers.
If he had called the dish "squab," the evening might have gone without incident; before it was ever served, there was a buzz in the room about eating pigeon. Then, it arrived at the tables with some buckshot still in it, the blood-red meat served medium-rare.
"It was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten in my life," Hall says, but it was perhaps too rarefied a taste for the Sedona guests.
Hall says that whenever he serves a meal, he waits by the dish machine to see what comes back uneaten.
"They all freaked," he says. "It was the first time in my career that I've ever had 98 of 100 plates come back untouched."
Hall freaked, too. The meal was being served to showcase a particular brand of champagne. Hall guzzled down five Styrofoam cups of it in a row.
The rest of the meal went flawlessly. After dinner, Hall apologized to the guests and made a crack that "You can take a guy to the park, but you can't make him eat pigeon."
Then he sat down to watch the after-dinner comedy show.
The featured comedian came right out of the chutes with five rapid-fire jokes about the pigeons.
"At which point, Todd got up in his chef's uniform," Zielinski remembers, "and went to the front of the stage--and this was in a room with a couple of hundred people--and began to exchange barbs with this comedian."
"I had no peripheral vision," says Hall. "I was in the room alone with this asshole who was making fun of my food. And I went up there and I said, 'By God, you can stand up there and make more money than I do in three months in one damned night, but let me tell you, I've been working on those fucking birds for four days, and I did the best I could and I failed. Is that so funny?"
"That was the day he told us he had a problem," Zielinski says, a substance-abuse problem, and the resort entered him in to and paid for a counseling program.
Hall claims that the counseling was for anger management, not alcohol abuse.
But then after a minor incident early in 1992, when the managers again sat Hall down for a chat, Hall announced that he was leaving Los Abrigados to return to 8700 in Scottsdale.
In August of 1992, Howard Seftel published a stellar review of Hall's cooking in New Times:
"The main dishes at 8700 are cleverly marketed under a variety of headings," he wrote, "making it seem as if there's something for just about everyone. Which there is. And it's all beautifully presented with an almost Japanese eye toward color, texture and arrangement. In the section marked 'American Comfort Foods,' we couldn't resist the game hen baked in Indian red-rock clay. . . . It arrived resembling a large loaf of bread, with the '8700' logo branded into the clay. The waiter cracked it open at the table, revealing a juicy whole bird wrapped in parchment, filled with outstanding blue-corn stuffing."
Hall was up to speed.
And then Cody died the next month.
On his first day back at 8700 after his son's funeral, Hall tangled with the restaurant's management over staffing, he says. The restaurant would not elaborate on the issue, but says that Hall was asked to leave. Hall says he walked out of a meeting and didn't go back.
Another man might have taken that time to grieve or go into therapy, or at least stop to reflect on why life had turned sour.
Instead, Hall threw himself into opening a new restaurant. On Halloween 1992, he opened Todd's New American Cooking, which offered prix-fixe meals.
And again the reviews were raves. Howard Seftel wrote that "Todd's reminds you of the main motivation for eating out . . ." and "If there's better food elsewhere, it's not cheaper, if the food's cheaper, it's not better."
Hall's contemporaries speculate that if Hall had not been pursued by so many demons, the restaurant, on the basis of its food and its concept, might still be around today.
But Hall was stewing himself in cocaine.
And while cocaine makes most people hyper, it made the usually hyperactive Todd Hall drift into a mellow haze.
"It's a wonderful state," he says. "It numbs you."
His wife Stacey thought otherwise. "He got humble and it scared me because that wasn't like Todd," she says. "And he didn't talk, and that's not like him, either."
Because Todd and Stacey were terrified to let their surviving children out of their sight, they kept them close by and underfoot right in the restaurant. Things got scarier after New Year's when their financial backer pulled out, and Hall was forced to borrow money from his staffers to keep the doors open.
His escape from financial doom is nothing short of miraculous.
A regular customer of Todd's named Minnie Lane bailed him out:
"She said, 'Listen, you are dysfunctional and you need help,'" Hall relates. "'I can't make you do anything, but I would like you to just close the damn restaurant. If you have outstanding debts, I'll take care of those for you; just leave the area.'"
Hall contends she gave him tens of thousands of dollars. Lane, whose family owns Lane Furniture, admits that she paid his bills, but she would not comment on the amount.
"It was a gift," Lane says. "I'm happy to be in a position to do things like that."
(Lane also found a house for Hall to live in rent-free when he returned to Phoenix last month to look for a job.)
The Halls closed Todd's in May of 1993 and left Phoenix just as they had arrived, with their remaining possessions packed into a rental truck. Hall claims he cold-turkey left the cocaine problem behind.
They spent a year in Salt Lake City where they still had family. Hall helped reopen the Hotel Utah, where he had done his apprenticeship. Then he was lured to Bass Lake, California, to be chef at a well-known restaurant called Erna's Elderberry House. He found a house to rent 12 miles from the south gate of Yosemite National Park, with four and a half acres of wooded property and a milelong dirt road, "So no one would ever be hit by a car. No one would ever enter our property, no one would ever snatch my kids, no one would ever fall in the pool," he recalls.
If only he could have been protected from himself.
"He has wonderful food," she says. "It has lots of flavor. He's creative. He's quick."
But she won't say anything about why he left.
"I'm only telling you that he's a good chef," she says. Then she corrects herself.
"No, I'll rephrase that: He's a very talented cook.
"What's the difference? Somebody who is conscientious all the time at work and there when you need them. Someone who takes control of the place."
Hall claims that he gave notice to Erna so that he could once again open his own place, and they quarreled over a special dinner she threw for a group of celebrity chefs. Whatever it was, he admits that when he opened a restaurant at a country club right down the road, he offered the same menu for $25 a plate less than Erna did.
Business was great, but the club closed down for the month of January, and so Hall decided to come back to Phoenix for a visit.
But first, he says, on January 22, 1995, he drove the 40 or so miles into Fresno for groceries and to buy knives for his kitchen and a new pair of shoes.
According to the story he told New Times, he was parking his car near a downtown mall when a female panhandler appeared at his car window and asked for money, which he gave to her. A moment later, he contends, she came back and asked for more, and when he took his money out, he suddenly saw a young black teenager pointing a .38 through the passenger window of the car, demanding he pass over all of his cash.
"He was jonesin' on coke," Hall says. "And I thought, 'I know how you feel, but you don't have to be pulling guns on people.' I didn't say anything. I was doing this internal dialogue thing, staring him in the eye and wondering if he's going to pull the trigger or not.
"Finally, I said, 'Fuck you.' I started my car and started driving away. He fired three times. I took two in the abdomen and one in the jaw."
According to the police report, however, Hall told police at the scene of the shooting that he had gotten lost in a bad neighborhood, left his van to ask directions. The people he asked demanded payment and when he took out his wallet, they tried to grab it. Then, he told police, the young man shot him as he ran for his car.
When he came out of surgery--again according to the police report--Hall then told police that he had stayed in the car while asking directions through his open passenger-side window and was shot while he sat in his car.
Furthermore, the report indicates that Hall was not shot at a downtown mall, but rather in a neighborhood that, as the report says, "appears to be frequented and possibly inhabited, in part by drug users & addicts."
A Fresno police detective who investigated the case also says that some of the eyewitnesses to the shooting--witnesses he characterized as "crack heads"--alleged that Hall was there to make a buy.
Hall swears angrily that he was not buying drugs when he was shot.
"I wasn't doing nothing wrong," he says. "As many times as I have been and lucked out and nothing happened, I wasn't doing nothing wrong that day. It was Sunday at four in the afternoon. There's been a hundred times that I never got caught, when things should have gone wrong but didn't. I mean, really close calls when I was that bad. But then, that time: no."
Whatever Hall was doing, the police accounts and his account come together with him flagging down a police cruiser.
He pulled up his shirt for the police to reveal a bullet hole in his side; the bullet went through his spleen and bladder and several loops of intestine. A second bullet had lodged near his clavicle, so close to the skin that it raised a bump. The third shattered in his chin.
He paced around while waiting for the ambulance, and was so full of adrenaline that he never felt pain.
"I was higher than I've ever been in my life," he says. And as he rode to the hospital in the ambulance, he says, he could feel his life slipping pleasantly away. But then he thought about his daughter Chelsea and suddenly didn't want to die, and so he forced himself back to consciousness.
Todd Hall now looks back at the shooting as a divine wake-up call, a message that maybe he hadn't gotten the point, hadn't been turned around abruptly enough when his son died, hadn't slowed down enough to think of how much his actions affected everyone around him.
He was so gravely wounded that he could not work for a year and a half, and had to spend months in bed after he was released from the hospital.
Stacey and the kids would sit at his bedside at their house in Bass Lake; his big black mongrel, Bradley, would lick his hands. Hall fell into deep depression.
"I sat after I was shot and thought, 'What the hell am I here for? I don't see any purpose to being on Earth.'"
It was sitting at his bedside.
The restaurant business can be hard on family life. Chefs get up early in the morning to get to the kitchen and set up for the day. Hall would routinely get home for a while at midday while the kids were in school, then return to the restaurant in late afternoon for dinner time and remain there until close to midnight.
Furthermore, as Hall is quick to admit--and other chefs have corroborated--chefs tend to be as high-spirited and volatile as artists in other creative fields.
To Hall's good fortune, his wife Stacey is as calm and steady as Hall is emotional; she is staunchly supportive, deeply in love.
Neither hesitated to speak openly about the emotional upheavals, even as the children sat next to them in the living room of their house.
"It's hard to make someone go to the doctor when they don't think they're sick," Hall says. "I thought I was normal. I was so far from normal, but I was in a state of denial. I didn't realize how the death of my son had affected me."
He was entitled to money through a victims of crime program in California, and he used it to get into therapy, first for himself and then for his entire family.
The therapist, Dr. Jill Schirsen, who has practices in Berkeley and Bass Lake, California, he says, helped him realize just how much he was running from the death of Cody, and further, how senselessly he had always driven himself.
While he was recuperating, Hall's daughter Chelsea confessed to him that she had always looked forward to his days off because it was the only time she ever saw him.
The psychologist took Hall to task for his controlling nature. She told Hall that he "couldn't walk around life being a dickhead," and that Stacey should make a sign to hang in the kitchen that said "I'm not one of your fucking employees."
It was an epiphany for Hall.
He realized that because of his career, he had never celebrated Thanksgiving with his family. He decided to throw a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless, and when more than a hundred people signed up for the meal, he went to local businesses to ask for their help in supplying the food, which he and his kids cooked.
The greatest psychological burden, however, rested on the shoulders of Hall's son John, now 7, who had let his baby brother fall in the pool.
John had his own bouts of depression and anger and fear, and so the psychotherapist scripted an encounter with him.
She asked him to pretend that he had children of his own and asked if he would let his 4-year-old son know how to open a pool gate.
"No," John said tensely, "4-year-olds shouldn't be able to open the gate."
"You're right," the therapist responded. "It wasn't your fault that your little brother drowned. It's your parents' fault because they were dumb enough to let a 4-year-old know how to open a gate."
According to the script, Hall and Stacey had to agree.
"And it kind of tore us up," Hall says, choking back tears. "Because we've always known it was our fault.
"I have dealt with the hardest lessons of life," he says. Then, one at a time, he points to his wife and his daughter sitting in the living room.
"She matters, and she matters," he says.
On a recent afternoon, Hall and Stacey are at lunch at Vincent Guerithault on Camelback. Hall is politely challenging the waiter, who has just told him that today's black-bean salad will feature shrimp instead of mussels, because mussels are out of season.
"Mussels are raised on farms," Hall says. "How can they be out of season?"
"I don't know, sir."
Part of Hall's purpose in coming to this restaurant is to see how its chef, the very well-known Vincent Guerithault, will react to his return to Phoenix.
In fact, since Hall has been back in town, he has been calling every chef and every food writer, with the exception of the Arizona Republic's Penelope Corcoran, whom he despises, to let them know that he's ready to cook--while at the same time trying to glean information on where he stands.
In addition, Hall has been announcing that more than anything he wants to return to La Hacienda at the Scottsdale Princess resort, the same restaurant that started Hall's career in Phoenix nine years ago.
"One does not call up and order a restaurant the way one orders a hamburger," he claims Princess management told him. But, nonetheless, he put his order in, told everyone about it, and they have been negotiating for weeks. And whether he should have just kept his mouth shut about it remains to be seen. But the strategy, he confesses, is vintage Todd Hall.
This time, however, Hall says, he's going to stay put. He swears that the new, calmer, grown-up Todd Hall realizes how many opportunities he's blown by jumping from restaurant to restaurant.
Both Joe Martori, who owns Los Abrigados, and Robert Keyes, who owns 8700--two restaurants that Hall left on bad terms--seem to believe that the life traumas Hall's been through have indeed made him want to settle down.
"He's an outstanding talent," says Keyes. "His problem has been one of focus. And I assume he's in that position at this juncture. I talked to Joe Martori about this and he would agree: There's nobody better if he focuses on what he's doing with his talent, skill, and ability."
Martori describes Hall as a "splendid guy to know," and goes so far as to say that if Hall came to him to open a restaurant and if Martori were convinced Hall had truly matured, then he would not hesitate to invest.
And Edd Zielinski, Hall's boss at Los Abrigados, says he would hire him back "given the right circumstances. I still take an interest in a guy with a lot of talent."
But the cooking community is more skeptical. The stories of Hall's drug use and volatility, which may or may not have been exaggerated with the passage of time, still echo in restaurant kitchen conversation. And although at least one restaurateur admits that drug use is rampant in the industry, no one admits to ever having partied with Todd Hall.
As an indication of their egos, chefs, it seems, are usually referred to by their first names: Vincent, RoxSand, Christopher, Eddie. Hall wants the name "Todd" to be on the one-name list.
RoxSand Scocos of RoxSand, however, has not returned calls, and her husband Spyros describes Hall as self-promoting and denies that his wife and Hall are much more than acquaintances.
Christopher Gross of Christopher's and Alex Stratta of Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician resort both state, reservedly, that they welcome him back to the Valley, politely compliment his food, and then say that they really only know him casually.
Eddie Matney of Eddie's Grill at first takes the same polite tack--and then he lets loose what he really thinks about Hall's chances of becoming an established name in Phoenix fine food:
"I think Todd is capable of it," he says. "I've never seen it because he's always jumped around.
"Whether he has the capability to be disciplined has yet to be seen. He has shown in previous times that he hasn't. I'm hoping this time around he has learned his lesson. He has a family to support. If Phoenix is going to accept him with open arms, he's got to come in and take it one day at a time, not take it in a bulldozer.
"If you want to come back and be taken seriously, then show us why you should be taken seriously. Why should we? We took you seriously before and it didn't work.
"Enough of the cat-assing around. Grow up and be a businessman."
Back at Vincent's, the waiter presents Hall with a beautifully grilled tuna.
"Is that rare enough for you?" the waiter asks, a hint that Hall has been recognized by eyes in the kitchen.
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Hall asks if Vincent can come out to the dining room.
The formal dance ensues. The waiter tells the hostess, the hostess inquires: "Who's asking?"
Moments later, Vincent is by the table in his chef's coat and hat, delightfully French and graciously inquiring about Hall's well-being.
Hall describes the shooting, especially the slug he took in the chin.
"I was terrified that I'd lose my sense of taste," he says.
Everyone else wonders if he's found a sense of proportion, a sense of self, and the good sense to put his considerable talents and energy to work.