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Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Dishes on Menu Integrity and Starting a Fire at River Café

Edward Farrow at the head of the line
Edward Farrow at the head of the line
Buchanan

Edward Farrow The Cafe at MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix 480-478-6000, themim.org

See also: -- Greg LaPrad Explains Why Mangos Are Over-Rated and Gives the Best Lecture Ever to Negative Foodies

This is part one of my interview with Edward Farrow, executive chef at The Café at MIM. Come back tomorrow when Farrow dishes about Chris Gross and what he learned at Kai.

Local tilapia with polenta, carrots, turnips and broccolini
Local tilapia with polenta, carrots, turnips and broccolini
Buchanan

Edward Farrow isn't a typical chef with a typically warm and fuzzy story about his early relationship with food. He didn't make pies with his grandma or work in a restaurant kitchen before he'd gotten his driver's license. Finding his way to executive chefdom and a solid footing in the farm-to-table movement was a bit more roundabout for this Phoenix native, who was a business major and avid tennis player in his youth.

The way he remembers it, a friend who was a student supervisor at the university cafeteria begged him for help one day when the dishwasher didn't show. Farrow rolled up his sleeves and jumped in, continuing to wash dishes for a year after his graduation -- to the dismay and chagrin of his parents. The next summer, he landed a job in La Jolla in a similar fashion: a desperate chef at The Crab Catcher hired him on the spot after immigration had raided the restaurant. Farrow grilled fish and steamed rice for another year in what he calls a "scoop and serve" operation until his boss encouraged him to go to culinary school.

While attending the CIA in Hyde Park, Farrow worked for David Burke at River Café, where he got his first taste of fine dining. After a year and a half, he headed back home to see his parents and wound up spending another year and a half under the tutelage of Chris Gross, who owned Christopher's and Christopher's Bistro at the time. Following a girl back East, Farrow landed a gig at the Inn at Little Washington, where he hated living in the boonies but enjoyed the work. Ever the businessman (and clearly, a budding sourcer), he started buying morels on the cheap from hillbillies in West Virginia and selling them to high-end restaurants in D.C., which is how he met Gerard Pangaud of Gerard's Place and wound up in his kitchen for two and a half years.

 

Farrow holding locally foraged oyster mushrooms
Farrow holding locally foraged oyster mushrooms
Buchanan

When his relationship with the girl soured, he was ready to come home, landing a job as line cook under Alex Stratta at Mary Elaine's. "He was such a gentleman," Farrow says, "I only heard him raise his voice once." After that, Farrow bounced from Another Pointe in Tyme at The Pointe at South Mountain to Mandalay Bay and Circo in Vegas to Le Meridien Hotel in Boston, where he was executive sous for the property and chef de cuisine for Julien.

Heading back to Phoenix again, Farrow took a detour to the Francisco Grande (a golf resort in Casa Grande) before landing a job as kitchen supervisor -- and later sous chef -- at Kai. He stayed for three years until Bon Appetit, (a restaurant management company for private colleges and universities, corporate accounts and specialty venues such as museums) came knocking.

Farrow opened The Café at MIM in 2010, turning what could've been just another forgettable museum restaurant into a dining destination for foodies who favor local. He's one of the city's most creative sourcers, a guy who loves connecting with the people who grow, raise and forage our food. You might say he's come full circle from that humble dishwashing job in a university cafeteria to this far more interesting one, where cafeteria food and fresh, delicious food are not mutually exclusive ideas.

Five words to describe you: Passionate, focused, hospitable, patient, adrenaline-junkie.

 

Even the beers are 50% local at MIM
Even the beers are 50% local at MIM
Buchanan

Five words to describe the Café at MIM: Fresh, sustainable, local, tasty, surprising.

Favorite food smell: Braising meat. The aromatics and seared flesh awaken my "inner caveman" every time.

Favorite cookbook and why: The Bible. If you believe, he is the ultimate chef.

Ingredient you love to cook with and why: Hearty greens (chards, mustards, kales, etc) because they're very versatile, and can handle additional flavor components -- salt, sweet, sour, bitter, smoke -- pretty easily. They're good for you as well, except for the added bacon.

Most over-rated ingredient: Salmon. It's everywhere.

Most under-rated ingredient: Offal, a taste and texture sensation not found much elsewhere.

Trend you like: Chef-owned restaurants. They seem to be a chef's only option for cooking and doing business the way he or she wants. Hotels and resorts, which were the arena for fine dining and experimentation for so long, seem to go the safe route when the economy is struggling.

Trend you wish would go away: Lack of menu integrity. The menu states "Joe Smith's Tomatoes", but Joe hasn't grown them in 4 months. It's a disservice to Joe as well as to the guest, who expects something better and gets fleeced. Reprint the thing already.

Your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: Working for David Burke in NYC. He was reaching for an item in a pot of fryer oil, and I spilled it on the flat top, creating a rather large fire under his arm, which gave him some serious burns. I was pretty sure I was unemployed at that point, but the next day, he had a sense of humor about it. I've had anxiety about the incident ever since.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: 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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