Free Range Chefs

Great chefs are not bred to be caged in corporate kitchens. There's no keeping these talented souls confined with menus supervised by restaurant executives in business suits -- their spirits yearn to run free.

What else than a reckless urge for independence and self-expression would motivate a chef to leave an extraordinary position with a world-class operation, and strike out on his own? Such is the case with three of the Valley's top talents, who during the past week have cut the apron strings with their cushy resort parents.

Chef Michael Hoobler is abandoning T. Cook's at the Royal Palms. Chef Jeffrey Beeson has deep-sixed his deal with Different Pointe of View at the Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs. And top gun pastry chef Richard Ruskell has waved goodbye to the Phoenician.

We'll see Hoobler again in December, with the opening of Arcadia in the former Anna's Cafe at 56th Street and Thomas. This dinner-only eatery is destined for greatness, given Hoobler's talent and his partnership with the folks from Rancho Pinot Grill, Tom and Chrysa Kaufman. The Kaufmans own the operation, but Hoobler will be the man in the kitchen at this neighborhood-type place.

Arcadia's menu will celebrate a blend of the cooking styles found at T. Cook's and Rancho Pinot, which means we're in for lots of fresh vegetables, rotisserie meats, local products and upscale comfort foods.

Beeson is keeping tightlipped about his future plans until the details are finalized, but denied rumors that he might connect with that culinary gem Convivo, or even Morton's.

Ruskell, one of the top 10 pastry chefs in the United States, will be opening Maxine's, a designer bakery at Pinnacle Peak and Miller roads in north Scottsdale.

While the culinary maneuvering is good news for local foodies, it's sure to have left a sour taste with resort managers. A celebrity chef is a huge draw these days, with increasing numbers of guests saying that a resort restaurant's reputation is one of their important considerations, according to the National Restaurant Association.

After Dinner Mint: Nationally renowned chef Robert Del Grande (Cafe Annie in Houston) was in the kitchen of Acacia in the Scottsdale Four Seasons last Thursday night. Pulling together the multicourse "guest chef" event was no problem, Del Grande confided. His only challenge? Surviving the oh-so-cute high jinks of TV and radio personalities Beth and Bill during his appearance on their sugarcoated cooking show.


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