From now 'til we publish the 2012 edition of Best of Phoenix, New Times and Chow Bella present 100 Tastemakers -- Valley residents who make the cut in our culinary scene. Some you'll know; for others, it'll be a first introduction (but likely not the last). While you're here, check out our 100 Creatives on Jackalope Ranch.
Today: A man whose reputation preceeds him.
Tastemaker 19: Eliot Wexler
As a city kid who grew up in downtown Chicago, Eliot Wexler experienced the eclectic array of cuisine and culture that Chicago has to offer. A lover of the culinary arts, he traveled the city forwards and backwards looking for the next great bite. In August 2008, he opened noca restaurant to share his love of food and wine with Phoenix.
I arrived in Phoenix with... I moved from Chicago in the fall of 1992 and was living at Hayden Square in Tempe with a brand new convertible. I wanted to take the car for a spin to check out the surroundings so I dropped the top and pulled out on Mill Ave. and went north. I was not familiar with the neighborhood, so because Mill curves around, and I ended up travelling west on Van Buren and a couple girls waved or whistled. I was thinking the car was a game changer, and the details are fuzzy at this point, but sometime later I realized that the congeniality was of a professional nature.
If I was sitting down to dinner for six, my five dream dining companions would be... I would have to start with some of my family who are not with us anymore.
My father's mother, Lillian, who lived to be 107 and played the stock market to the end. She hightailed it out of the Ukraine around the very early 1900's and met my grandfather who had also left Russia around the same time. They opened a business and she invested her spare money as she went along in the stock market and was incredibly successful. She taught me to read the stock pages in the 4th grade, which has had a major impact on my life. Her wisdom and business acumen were the foundation for my entire family. I often remember the things she would tell me about life when I was young, and back then I was not so sure, but now I know she was right.
Her husband, my Papa Lou, died when I was very young...maybe 3, so I have only a small memory of sitting on his lap and him feeding me grapes. My grandmother always told me that he called me this Yiddish name that I don't remember but it meant something very nice. I would like to have the opportunity to sit with him as an adult.
My mother's dad, Bernie, was a legend. His first wife, my grandmother, died in her early thirties but after that he was married and divorced four or five times. He came from a big family and back in the day in Chicago, one brother owned a bar, another brother owned a hotel next door and the stories of what went on are something else. He was sort of a playboy and he started "sharing" his wisdom when I was pretty young. My friends and I often called him I got older so he could give his legendary council. He has not been with us for a long time but my friends and I still all have his lines committed to memory. He also had a great love of food to say the least and I would eat breakfast with him every Saturday morning growing up.
The next seat would be my mom who passed from a bout with cancer a number of years ago. Towards the end when my dad went to work, I would come over and we would watch T.V. together until my dad got home. The channel that we would watch 99% of the time was the Food Network and she said something to me while we watching that directly inspired me to go into the restaurant business. I also would like the chance to have the conversation with her that I was not mature enough to have with her in her last days.
The next guest would not be in a seat but on the floor next to me: my dearest friend, Gable. He was a black standard poodle that was a true gentleman and bon vivant. He and I were inseparable and he loved food as much as I do; he would happily stand with me during the harshest Chicago weather while cooking dinner on the grill. I always gave him the first bite of anything that I made. ...I miss him.
Last seat would be my Pop, who is still practicing law in Chicago and a very serious cook that was influential in my exposure to all kinds of food and cooking.
One place everyone who comes to Phoenix must eat is... a 2 a.m. trip to the taco stand next to Charlie's for carne asada quesadillas and tacos and an atmosphere that is unforgettable.
One menu item this city could do without is... bad airport food. But that is about to change with all the local restaurants that SSP America is bringing to Terminal 4 including my nocawich concept.
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My last meal in Phoenix would be... on the patio with my two dogs, Zyggy & Stella at noca with Claudio and my noca family throwing it down like it was nobody's business.
The Tastemakers so far: 100: Tracy Dempsey 99: Craig DeMarco 98: Lara Mulchay 97: M.J. Coe 96: Betty Alatorre de Hong 95: Eric Schaefer 94: Hanna Gabrielsson 93: Shinji Kurita 92: Silvana Salcido Esparza 91: Mike Pitt 90: Christina Barrueta 89: Christopher Gross 88: Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung 87: DJ Fernandes 86: Cullen Campbell 85: Chris Lee 84. Gwen Ashley Walters 83: Tony Morales 82: Lylah Ledner 81: Andrea White 80: Lori Hashimoto 79. Mrs. White 78: Eugenia Theodosopolous 77: Lou & Lovey Borenstein 76: Anthony Patafio 75: Carl Seacat 74: Sacha Levine 73: Sharon Salomon 72: Johnny Chu 71: Susie Timm 70: Jason Silberschlag 69: Gina Miller 68: Cindy Gentry 67: Amy Binkley 66: Dave Anderson 65: Mark Tarbell 64: Marianne Belardi 63: Audrey Lasalle 62: Brandon Gauthier 61: Brad and Kat Moore 60: Denise Clayton 59: Nobuo Fukuda 58: Richie Moe 57: Robin Trick 56: Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia 55: Farah Khalid 54: Dave Andrea 53: Vincent Guerithault 52: Danielle Leoni 51: Stan Zawatski 50: Maya Dailey 49: Duc Liao 48: Lisa Reinhardt 47: Isam Saed 46: Greg Peterson 45: Marco Bianco 44: Mark Fratu 43: Wendell Crow 42. Barb Harris 41: Michael Perry 40: Jeff Kraus 39: Ryan Avery 38: Charleen Badman 37: Damon Brasch 36: Dwayne Allen 35: Jason Asher 34: Pamela Hamilton 33: Victoria Chavez 32: Giovanni Scorzo 31: Tim Wilson 30: Travis Nass 29: Jason Alford 28: Clint Spotleson 27: Daniel Wayne 26: Korina Adkins 25: Carla Wade Logan 24: Jeff Zimmerman 23: Gabriele Bertaccini 22: Claudio Urciuoli 21: Peter DeRuvo 20: Natalie Morris