If you're any kind of food geek at all, you're already familiar -- by fork and good press -- with local celebrity chefs such as Chrysa Robertson, Chris Bianco, Kevin Binkley, Greg LaPrad and Charleen Badman. But what you're far less likely to know are the names and faces of the behind-the-scenes chefs and cooks who help make it all happen, the unsung heroes who keep their heads down and work while their bosses get all the glory.
Here are four kitchen warriors and rising stars you ought to know. They're young, they're talented, they're modest, and they're going places -- but only if they want to. For now, they're all sitting tight, listening to and learning from their own personal Yodas.
Tony Andiario, 34 Executive chef Quiessence
Background: Tony Andiario, a quiet and intensely focused guy, has cooked all his life. He's an Arizona Culinary Institute grad who worked as commis (junior cook, the veggie chopper) at Michael's at the Citadel while he was going to school. He jokingly calls the position "about the equivalent to dishwasher but not as important." It was there he met Greg LaPrad , and the two became great friends. When LaPrad took over the kitchen at Quiessence, he brought Andiario on board as line cook, a position Andiario held for two months before becoming sous chef, then chef de cuisine. This is his second year as the Q's executive chef, but the title is pretty much just a title here. Andiario is on the line every night. He also makes pasta, breaks down whole animals, and collaborates with LaPrad about the daily-changing menu. This is his seventh year and eighth season at Quiessence.
What LaPrad says: Tony is one of the most talented cooks I've ever worked with, and I've seen him grow so much over the years. He's self-motivated and largely self-taught. We've read and researched so many things together. His kitchen is incredibly organized and he's demanding of himself and others. He's a very creative person, and he still pushes to elevate the food here. He's never satisfied and it's never good enough.
Background: Tutlewski grew up in Indiana and attended CHIC (Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago), moving to Arizona in 2007. He bounced around a bit at first, working at Sanctuary and the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa before landing at Prado, where he worked under Claudio Urciuoli until 2009. When Urciuoli moved to Pane Bianco, Tutlewski came along for the ride. Now, he's become what fellow chefs and friends call "Bianco's Heart" and "The Fixer," the guy who kept Italian Restaurant on course until Bianco found chef John Hall to run it. Tutlewski is back at Pane (the commissary of the Bianco empire) but he's always in motion, making sure that every Bianco restaurant is, as he says, "doing what Chris would do." He bakes, trains staff, maintains quality control and acts as forager, seeking out and maintaining connections with local farmers and artisans in Bianco's absence. He understands what Bianco wants. "We have a life management plan here, not a time-management plan," he says, which just might contradict his 80-hour work week.
What Bianco says: I couldn't ever articulate how much Robbie means to me personally and to our company, but I'll try. Robbie is such an incredible human being. The fact that he is also an extremely talented young chef is just a bonus. He has a skill set you can't teach -- most notably his sense of calm and control. He goes after it like a kamikaze pilot, but in his case, the plane lands safely, no one gets hurt, and the passengers are fed beyond first-class. Unlike some young chefs who ask questions only to tell you the answer to their own query, he listens and follows, then leads. If you eat a meal and the chef's an asshole, you can usually taste it. The same goes if they carry golden hearts. Robbie's is solid gold. Robbie and John Hall (another great one) are the future of my company, and we are moving in a direction to hopefully share the table for a lifetime. I am very grateful, lucky and blessed to have him.
Background: The only thing Brandon Gauthier likes better than cooking is fly-fishing, and even that's debatable. This 2002 SCI grad met Kevin Binkley when he did his externship at Crew, where Binkley was executive chef, and the two friends stayed in touch when Gauthier moved back to Michigan. When that didn't work out (Northern Michigan isn't exactly a hotbed of fine dining), Gauthier came back to Arizona to help Binkley open Binkley's, jumping in to do last-minute construction before its 2004 opening. He started as a line cook and has since worked every station, holding the sous chef position for two years before opening Café Bink as chef de cuisine in 2008. He returned to Binkley's as chef de cuisine a little over a year ago, but he oversees operations at both restaurants. In his typically modest way, he says, "99.9 percent of the creative force is Kevin."
What Binkley says: I've been working with Brandon so long that I trust Brandon more than I trust myself. He knows exactly what I'm thinking. We cook the same way. I got him right out of culinary school, and he's like my culinary son. My hope is that he's with me forever.
Background: Like the women she works for, Sacha Levine is a straight-shooter who doesn't suffer fools gladly. Getting a full ride to ACI through a C-CAP scholarship, she did a three-month externship at Atlas Bistro, working under Carlos Manriquez. She stayed on for two and half years, rising to chef de cuisine before leaving in 2006 because she "wasn't growing." Her next gig was with Aaron May at Sol y Sombra, where she learned from Walter Sterling and later began helping May open Auto Strada, Over Easy and The Lodge. From there, she moved to Prado, where she worked for Claudio Urciuoli and struck up friendships with Robbie Tutlewski and Pavle Milic. When Milic and his partner Charleen Badman opened FnB in 2009, they hired Levine. In the beginning, there were only four of them: Milic and his wife Emily, Badman and Levine. After a brief detour at Singh Farms, where she began her pickle project (Green Thumb Pickles), Levine began working full-time for Chrysa Robertson at Rancho Pinot. She spends her mornings at FnB, doing 40 to 50 covers at lunch and collaborating with Badman on the menu. "Char relies on me a lot," she says, "because she knows I'm not going to fuck up." By evening, Levine is over at Rancho, where her favorite job is pantry but she fills in (on other people's days off) on sauté and grill. She can and does do it all.
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What Robertson says: Sacha is amazing. She has an artist's touch when it comes to pulling salads and plates together. In 20 years, I've never met anyone who so completely understands the way I want things done. She reads my mind, and everything she does is simple, natural and uncontrived. It's always just perfect. Another great thing about Sacha is her willingness to just jump in and contribute to what we do in the kitchen. It's easy to get stuck in my old ways (just ask her), and Sacha always comes up with several terrific ideas for the menu. That's very rare, to find a cook who is both willing and talented enough to collaborate. Sometimes, I'm almost humbled by her contributions. And I can't forget to mention her comical, self-deprecating manner. She always cracks me up! I would be happy to have her as a sister, even though we most definitely would have different mothers! I'm not sure where Sacha's path will lead, but I hope it runs parallel to mine for a LONG time. She's the fucking best!
What Badman says: Sacha always has an opinion, and that's very important in this business. I'm very controlling in the kitchen, and she has had the most influence on what I do here than anyone ever has had or will have. We share a passion for ethnic cuisines, and we're always exploring them together. I'm super-excited to see what she plans on doing.