Aaron Chamberlin's central Phoenix restaurant St. Francis may only be seven months old, but he's not new to the restaurant business. Coming from three generations of a food industry family made an impact on the chef. You can see it from his grandparents' tasting spoons embedded into the restaurant's entranceway, to his inclination to cook over the open flame beginning with his time as a Boy Scout.
Situated near the increasingly hip intersection of Central and Camelback and named for the historic neighborhood in which it sits, the restaurant owned by Chamberlin and his brother focuses on simple, flavorful dishes, paying special attention to the use of fresh, seasonal ingredients, and changing the menu regularly.
Chef Chamberlin talks with New Times about his family's history in the food business, local and organic food as a trend, and one of his favorite restaurants.
St. Francis Style: We consider ourselves American seasonal...and wood-fired cuisine. We have a massive six foot by four foot wood-burning oven. We wanna do very simple food, that we work with as many local producers as we possibly can, and we do simple food for the community, and we're kind of out there to nourish people.
Culinary Childhood: My family has been in restaurant business since the '30s. My biggest inspiration is my grandfather and grandmother. They ran restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. Really, anyone in my family, when it was time to get a job, it was kinda like, "Okay, well you're gonna get a job in a restaurant." I'm the only one that it really stuck to. [It's] really important is that I'm carrying on the tradition.
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Still Trying to Tackle: When we opened up...it was crazy. Right now, we're at about our seven month mark...and I'm able to kind of create what I need to do to make sure I'm in the kitchen much more, and really trying to elevate the menu, and making sure that our standards are there and the consistency. We're really starting to get in our groove, and get things to where we're really changing our menu on a regular basis, and really working with the seasons.
This Season's Overrated Trend: The whole organic, and local, sustainable, and everything like that. It's a great trend, but really good chefs have been doing that for years. Right now we work with about twelve different local producers -- from goat cheese, to gelato, to farmers, to meat producers -- and we've been very skeptical of announcing that because I don't want to get into the trends. I just wanna do the best I can. And hopefully people come here, and they leave, and they feel that vibration because the food is tasty, and it's simple, and it's honest.
Last Foodgasm: The grilled broccoli at FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale. They do [it] with aioli, chili flakes and bread crumbs. It's so simple, but just...outstanding. They do a wonderful job...They hit every mark. Every time I leave there I think we need to go back and get better.
(This was part one of our Chef Chat with Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis. Check out part two tomorrow and stay tuned for a recipe on Thursday.)