Kelly Fletcher of House of Tricks on Thomas Keller, Chris Bianco, and What They'll Say About Him When He's Dead and Gone
Kelly Fletcher at the garden gate
This is part two of my interview with Kelly Fletcher, executive chef at House of Tricks in Tempe. If you missed part one, where Fletcher praised his favorite local chefs, told us about the best food he's had this year and predicted what will be the next big thing, read it here.
See also: -- Chris Bianco Opens Full-Blown Pizzeria Bianco at Town & Country; Italian Restaurant Moves to Back Dining Room and Morphs to Trattoria Bianco -- Ankimo, the Foie Gras of Japan, Gets a Modern Tweak at Hana
Master of his domain
You describe House of Tricks as New American. What kind of latitude does the term give you?: "New American" isn't just an open window; it's a house without walls. No cuisine is safe from what I do. If there is a Korean flavor that I love, I'll fuse it with Spanish flair. I love what every country and region in the world brings to the table.
Is New American just a catch-all phrase for "anything goes"?: Absolutely, and I'm very thankful for that.
You've been at House of Tricks over nine years. How has the restaurant changed/evolved in that time?: I think that the food keeps moving in different directions, which keeps us exciting. Ryan Brown, who is our wine director, has brought so much diversity to our wine list that it's easy to find something that will pair with the menu. Also having great people to work with and work for has made it a true standout restaurant in that period of time for me.
Name two or three chefs who helped define New American Cuisine: I think that Thomas Keller really brought a lot of game when he opened The French Laundry. He brought so much French sensibility and style but then allowed room for whimsical little twists to his cuisine. Jean-Georges did the same thing with his French background and his love for Asian flavors. Both of them are very inspiring when you think about the flavors that they play with and their youthful approach to food.
Private dining room
Where do you get inspiration for new dishes?: It's usually a late-night, pen-and-paper, bottle-of-wine thing. Sometimes I'll just start writing, and when I wake up I'll go back to the notebook and see what's written. That's when I look at what's on the page and say "that's great, that's terrible, this can be reworked into something cool."
What kind of person/personality does it take to be a chef?: A person who doesn't like sleep or having a family. You have to make a lot of sacrifices in your personal life for the love of what you do.
Advice you'd give an aspiring chef: Pay very close attention; listen to everybody around you. There isn't a person that you can't learn from in a kitchen.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: My mother would always make a big pot of chili and serve it with peanut butter sandwiches. We would all get bowls of chili and dip the sandwiches in the chili. I actually serve this at Tricks sometimes. It surprises people how good it is.
Favorite thing to eat now: I love sushi. I could actually eat sushi every day, to the point of draining my bank account.
Your guilty pleasure: Root beer. I love micro-brewed, small-batch root beers.
Ancho tamarind-glazed halibut with toasted orzo, basil curd and chile-citrus salsa
Most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you as a chef: There's no way to narrow this down to one thing. This is one of those three-degrees-of-separation situations. Just ask one person that even kind of knows me and they'll have a story for you.
Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from this person: Josh Hebert is very much a mentor. He's always just a phone call away when I have any type of question. I've learned so much about the industry from him. He's my fountain of knowledge.
Name a local chef you admire and explain why: Bernie Kantak is pretty amazing. He went through a lot of different phases before he opened Citizen. He kept his head above water and did whatever he had to do to get where he's at. Now he's opening his second spot. I'm very excited to see what he does next.
If you weren't a chef, what would you be?: A winemaker. That would be the coolest job ever.
Pet peeve in the kitchen: When food isn't seasoned properly. I ask, "Is this seasoned?" all the time.
Pet peeve as a restaurant customer: Bad Bloody Mary's.
Name two local dishes you love to eat: The daeji bulgogi at Hodori is one of my go-tos; I could eat there every day. The sausage pizza at Classic Italian Pizza is a big love for me. I can't wait for Azhar [Began] to reopen. I miss his pizza so much.
Last meal on Earth: There would be a large banquet table set up in the center of the Maison Joseph Drouhin vineyard. Lots of family and friends gathered to the table with copious amounts of wine. Foie gras would be eaten while a lamb slowly spun on a rotisserie. When the time came, we would move the lamb to the center of the table and eat until we could smell lamb and foie gras coming from our pores.
What should be written on your headstone?: "Here lies, to no surprise, the body of Chef Fletcher / Wine and foie were his demise, he couldn't have left any better."
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Jacques Qualin of J&G Steakhouse Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Matt Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast Jared Porter of The Parlor Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco 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 Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco and Trattoria Bianco Ehren Litzenberger, BLD Matt Taylor, Market Street Kitchen
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.