Chuck Wiley Shares His Oddball Guilty Pleasure and Makes the Best Cooking-to-Music-Genre Comparison Ever
Chuck Wiley Cafe ZuZu, Hotel Valley Ho 6850 E. Main Street, Scottsdale 480-421-7997 www.hotelvalleyho.com
This is part one of my interview with Chuck Wiley, the executive chef at Cafe ZuZu at the Hotel Valley Ho. Come back tomorrow for part two, when Chuck talks about the local chefs he most admires, the local dishes he loves to eat, and his sensual last meal on earth.
"I'm Forrest Gump," Chuck Wiley says, explaining that his career path has been a series of right-time, right-place events that led him from turning wrenches in New Jersey to running resort restaurants in Arizona. The car mechanic gig didn't last long. He was 18 and struggling to remove a muffler one arctic winter morning when a chunk of ice fell on him and he thought, "I gotta get out of here." So he followed a friend to Laguna Beach, CA where he dabbled in construction, bused tables and got interested in snow skiing, which led him to Lake Tahoe. Wiley worked in a small restaurant there, skiing all day and washing dishes at night until the cook walked out and the owner ordered Wiley behind the stove.
He stayed there long enough to learn how to cook, then moved over to the Sahara Tahoe Casino -- a place he describes as a food Disneyland with its own butcher shop and bakery as well as dozens of cauldrons of simmering soup stock. The atmosphere was intense, but Wiley loved the precision timing (they were feeding people during shows), not to mention the fact that he cooked for Elvis Presley, who came there often. This was the 70's, and the kitchen was full of European chefs who, Wiley says, treated an unschooled American kid "like a dog." But he stayed and he learned, cranking out 2200 meals in an eight-hour shift.
When he and a friend got the bug to get rich quick by working on the Alaskan pipeline, they moved to Anchorage, where Wiley fell into the restaurant business again, helping a restaurant owner open two restaurants there before heading to Park City, Utah for more skiing. He was working at the Hotel Utah (landing the chef de cuisine position through a series of fortuitous events) when he met hotel developer Bill Nassikas, who planned to build a ski resort with incomparable food. Wiley jumped on board, landing the executive chef position in 1985. He moved to the brand new Boulders Resort in Carefree (a WestRoc property developed by Nassikas and Scott Lyon) in 1989, where he stayed for just over 10 years, making the Latilla a dining destination. In 2000, Wiley left to help WestRoc convert John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch into Sanctuary. Wiley stayed on as executive chef (Beau MacMillan was his right hand man) until 2005, when he left to re-open the Hotel Valley Ho and Cafe ZuZu. Wiley says people wonder why he left his gig at ooh-la-la Sanctuary for the far more humble Valley Ho. "It's not about the stage," he says, "it's about the projects."
Favorite food smell: Fragrant melons and peaches.
Favorite cookbook: It's a tie: The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking by Barbara Tropp and The Mediterranean Kitchen by Joyce Goldstein
An ingredient you love to cook with and why: Fleur de sel, for the crunch and the fact that it's just plain delicious.
Most under-rated ingredient: Black pepper.
Something always found in your kitchen: Fresh ginger.
Something never found in your kitchen: Canned stock of any kind.
Something always found in your fridge: Hoisin sauce.
Trend you wish would go away: Deconstruction.
Trend you like: Returning to the almost-lost art of un-embellishment.
Buzzword you wish would go away: Gastropub. WTF?
If your cooking were a genre of music, what would it be?: Love songs.
What's your guilty pleasure?: Budweiser. It's considered low-brow, and some temples of mixology don't even carry it, but I think an ice-cold Bud is one of the most refreshing things on the planet.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles
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