Edward Farrow of The Café at MIM Dishes About Chris Gross, Going Local and What He Learned at Kai

Farrow in the walk-in at The Café at MIM
Farrow in the walk-in at The Café at MIM

This is part two of my interview with Edward Farrow, executive chef of The Café at MIM. If you missed part one, where Farrow dishes about menu integrity and the fire he started at the famed River Café, read it here.

See also: -javascript:void(0);- Four Best Farmers Markets in Greater Phoenix: Best of Phoenix 2012 -- Kai Chef Josh Johnson Dishes on Guy Fieri and Why He Likes to Eat at MIM

Your favorite cuisine and why: Just about anything I've never tried. The newness of the experience, the cuisine's culture and people, their traditions, which developed the cuisine over many moons in communities and family kitchens. You not only eat something interesting but immerse yourself in that culture for a while.

Pork ribs and veggies at MIM -- local, local, local
Pork ribs and veggies at MIM -- local, local, local

What turns you off when dining at a restaurant?: Indifferent service.

Favorite place to dine in Phoenix and why: Quiessence. It's ALWAYS great, and I am treated very well there. Inspiring, comfortable. Every dish is spot on, and I leave very happy.

Favorite thing to eat growing up: Whole milk.

Favorite thing to eat now: Any great cheese, the stinkier the better.

What's your guilty pleasure?: Great bourbon and The Shield.

You're very committed to local produce and products. Why?: It seems to make sense emotionally. It supports my neighbors, my community and my state. it's sustainably done and usually organic. I like to know who grows my food, have a conversation with them, know their families. These folks are usually a tad eclectic. It's good fun. They are as passionate about what they do as we are here. It makes sense, and it's a great partnership.

When did your interest in the local food movement begin?: I've always been passionate about sourcing this way, but some venues just do not support it. Most local folks need to be paid asap, maybe 7 days credit, whereas most hotels/resorts/corporations do 60/90 day terms. If a grower needs to fix his truck this week, 60 days seems like forever, and quite simply, he will go under. Bon Appetit is always figuring out ways to lower the barriers to make these relationships happen. We are, after all, a food company first. That said, we consider ourselves a small, independent restaurant here at the café. We operate as if our names are on the door.  

Dessert plate
Dessert plate

Does going local increase your food costs? And do you have to worry about that in the same way a small, independent restaurant would?: I believe sourcing local lowers our costs. Everything local is picked, butchered or caught a day or so before we receive it, and thus, it has a very long shelf life, so there is less waste. It usually tastes better and has more nutritional value, so we exceed our guest's expectations. Initially, there's a bit of sticker shock, but they come back.

What percentage of your product is local?: Depending on the season, 50-90% of our consumables are sourced from within 150 miles of our café. Salt and sugar are the two big items we have not been able to source locally, but we spend a lot of time trying.

How many local farmers, ranchers, producers, and artisans do you use?: If we include brewers and vintners, 80-90. We will showcase a lot of these folks at our "A Very Vintage Valentine's Day" Event on February 14 at MIM. We're not usually open for dinner, but this will give us an opportunity to reach a different crowd.

What did you take away from your experience at Kai?: The front of the house/service team has a huge impact on how the food tastes. They can set the narrative for the evening and guide the guest to the utmost experience. They probably have a bigger influence on the food than the kitchen does. Also, having a banquet operation that financially supports a playground like Kai is critical. The loss [in food costs] needs to be made up somewhere. I have great respect for the banquet side of our business.

Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: Christopher Gross. He demands perfection. Striving for it is not an option, and nobody gets an "off day." Passion and love for the trade.  

Pretty setting at MIM
Pretty setting at MIM

You swerved from fine dining to a cafeteria line. What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?: We like to call our operation a café, not a café***** line (maybe I'm fooling myself, but I need to for sanity's sake).

Advantages: I'm home most evenings; I have constant support from Bon Appetit. Since most guests expectations are not very high when they come in the first time, we can put forth our vision, our way (local, sustainable, tasty foods). I have a fantastic venue to cook in and we can coordinate dishes with museum exhibitions or concerts, changing the menu a LOT.

Disadvantages: Most folks don't want wine with their meal, although we try real hard. It's sometimes difficult to really push the envelope, but we always will. Fighting the impression that we are a café***** line.

Pet peeve in the kitchen: People calling their job "work." If you don't want to be here, then don't. Let's have fun and make folks happy with our craft. We can influence a lot of folks in a positive, nurturing way. And get paid for it. Does it get any better than that?

Last meal on earth: Whatever Chris Lenza [MIM's chef de cuisine] wants to cook.

What should be written on your head stone?: Fate is the hand we all must play.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu 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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