5 Favorite Chef and Tells of 2014

BJ Hernandez of Havana Patio Cafe
BJ Hernandez of Havana Patio Cafe
Lauren Saria

Betty-Jane Hernandez of Havana Patio Cafe: "You Just Have to Roll with the Punches"

In 1991, when Betty-Jane (BJ) and Gilbert Hernandez opened Havana Cafe in a space just off Camelback Road, you couldn't even get chorizo or black beans in this town. You could smoke inside restaurant dining rooms (in fact, Havana Cafe eventually became the first non-smoking restaurant in the city) and very few people knew what Cuban food was all about.

Over the last two decades, little Havana Cafe has helped shape diners' understanding of the Caribbean island's cuisine. Or at least, they did until earlier this year when their building was sold to be razed and turned into a new restaurant from LGO Hospitality. The new concept will be the company's fourth in the bursting Arcadia dining scene.

"It's like the Foxs and the LGOs are having a turf war," Hernandez laughs.

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See also: The 10 Best Things I Ate in Metro Phoenix in 2014

 

Aaron Pool of Gadzooks
Aaron Pool of Gadzooks
Lauren Saria

Aaron Pool of Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soups on the Perfect Enchiladas and Why Sporks Suck

When you hear the word "Gadzooks," you probably don't think of food. Toys, maybe. Or a children's clothing store. But a place for a good meal isn't likely to be the closest association.

"People assume it's going to be shitty," Aaron Pool says of the restaurant's name. "It's not like I planned it like that, but I like to under-promise and over-deliver."

If you've eaten at the quirkily named Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup in Central Phoenix, you may have noticed a tall skinny guy with a messy mop of hair working the line. He blends in with the rest of the restaurant's staff, but to the surprise of many, he's no employee.

That fresh-faced guy in the gray Gadzooks shirt is Aaron Pool, the restaurant's owner and creator. And, yes, he's still a few years shy of 30.

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Jason Grossmiller of Arizona Distilling Company
Jason Grossmiller of Arizona Distilling Company
Evie Carpenter

Jason Grossmiller of Arizona Distilling Company on SB 1397: "It's a Shame."

Arizona Distilling Company seems to be making a habit of blazing trails for the state's fledgling micro-distilling scene. When it released Copper City Bourbon last June, it was the first legally distilled spirit made in the state since Prohibition. And with its Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey just last month, Arizona Distilling put forth the state's first ever grain-to-bottle spirit.

See Also: Inside the Arizona Distilling Co. with Jason Grossmiller (Slideshow)

The microdistillery comes courtesy of co-owners Rodney Hu, Jon Eagan, and Jason Grossmiller, who founded the company together in 2012. Grossmiller is the company's distiller, which means he's the one in charge of all the science that goes into every bottle of the company's bourbon, gin, and whiskey. And if you ever get a chance to see the operation, you'll realize just how big a task that is. Just about every aspect from distilling to bottling is done by hand inside a warehouse in Tempe.

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Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots
Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots
Lauren Saria

Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots in Tempe: "I Wanted to Work for a Transparent Company"

The name 24 Carrots is a play on words that speaks directly to the Tempe restaurant and juice bar's mission: to provide pure food for everyone -- no matter what your dietary restrictions might be.

Owner Sasha Raj chose the name because 24-karat gold is pure gold, and when she started 24 Carrots as a juice bar more than five years ago, it was because she wanted to "work for a transparent company" that served food she could be proud of.

Raj, who studied biochemistry at Arizona State University, worked at a juice bar while she was a student. At the time, she had no intention of starting her own business but did hope the experience might teach her something. As it turned out, the job would teach her a lot about customer expectations -- and, more importantly, trust.

"A lot of people don't realize how much trust there is between customers and a restaurant," Raj says. "I realized how easily that trust can be broken."

Read full story: - Part One - Part Two

 

Stephen Jones of Bootleggers
Stephen Jones of Bootleggers
Courtesy of Bootleggers

Stephen Jones of Bootleggers: "I'm Just Going to Do the Damn Thing"

When we met with Stephen Jones late last week, it'd been just over a week since he started his new gig as executive chef of Bootleggers Modern American Kitchen. And in just that short amount of time, he'd already written a new menu and formed some solid ideas about the changes he'll be bringing to the restaurant.

Jones, who came to Phoenix by way of Chicago in 2008, made his name in the local food scene when he opened Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails at Kimpton's Hotel Palomar in 2012. He'd been at a handful of other local restaurants prior, but it was his distinctive take on classic American and Southern cuisine at Blue Hound that propelled him to the forefront of the Valley's culinary scene.

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Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Tomaso Maggiore -- Tomaso's Amy Bouzalgo -- Amy's Baking Company Jeffrey Amber -- Forge Pizza Tom Harvey -- Cuff Gabriele Bertaccini -- iL Tocco Food Stephen Eldridge -- Pink Pony Stephen Jones -- Bootleggers Silvana Salcido Esparza -- Barrio Queen Matt Zdeb -- SumoMaya Felicia Ruiz -- Lola Tapas Aaron Pool -- Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup Patrick Karvis -- TapHouse Kitchen Marisa Lown -- Radical Cupcake Brian Konefal -- Coppa Cafe Kelly Fletcher -- The Revival Bob Tam -- Bitter and Twisted BJ Hernandez -- Havana Patio Cafe Matt Taylor -- Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald -- The Market by Jennifer's Jared Lupin -- Umami Michael O'Dowd -- Urban Vine Dennis Delamater -- The Post Doc Brown -- Doc Brown's Artisan Ice Cream Josh Bracher -- Second Story Liquor Bar Chris McKinley -- The Local Chris Mayo -- Central Bistro James Fox -- Bootleggers Jay and Christine Wisniewski -- Caffe Boa Joe Absolor - Clever Koi Jason Grossmiller - Arizona Distilling Company Chris Collins - Grassroots Kitchen and Tap Perry Rea - Queen Creek Olive Mill Adam Brown - Noca Steve Kraus - Press Coffee Roastery Jason Raducha and Claudio Urciuoli - Noble Bread Sasha Raj - 24 Carrots Nick LaRosa - Nook Joey Maggiore - Cuttlefish Country Velador - Super Chunk Sweets and Treats James Porter - Petite Maison Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay

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