Tom Harvey of Cuff in Glendale: "I Loved the Industry Long Before I Loved to Cook"
Tom Harvey Executive Chef Cuff 5819 W Glendale Drive, Glendale www.cuffdowntown.com
It might surprise you to hear that Tom Harvey, a former executive chef at Eddie V's in Scottsdale, chose to leave his comfortable, cushy corporate gig to help open an independent restaurant in downtown Glendale. But Harvey and business partner David Chang believe in the West Valley neighborhood.
'This community, it gives success to restaurants that really hard," Harvey says.
The restaurant, Cuff, has been open for about three weeks now and will soon to joined by another dining concept, Zhang. An adjacent event space, cheekily named Off The Cuff, will round out the trio of Chang's concepts.
Harvey is the culinary talent behind the New American restaurant and grew up and worked in Georgia (he still retains a gentle southern accent) before coming out to Arizona to work at Eddie V's. He opened the restaurant at the Scottsdale Quarter on Valentine's Day in 2011 and says he enjoyed working for the restaurant in both the "pre- and post-Darden days."
He also admits he felt the need to give the independent restaurant route a try.
"You also feel like, 'I don't want to wake up at 50 never having given it a shot,'" he says.
Harvey's career has humble beginnings. The chef says he started washing dishes at 15 years old and immediately fell in love with kitchen life. Though he says he didn't yet know how to cook, he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life in restaurants.
"I loved the industry long before I loved to cook," Harvey says.
These days Harvey says he aims to bring approachable and affordable food to the downtown Glendale neighborhood. The chef says his goal is to maintain the high level of quality he delivered at Eddie V's, but in a casual environment. The Cuff menu takes a page or two from Harvey's southern roots with dishes such as the Shrimp Po Boy and Smoked Brisket.
The most interesting dish might be the Cuff Posole, a dish Harvey created years ago that's also on its way to becoming the chef's signature. The rich hominy and chiptole broth cradles six roasted pork pot stickers, making Harvey's version an Asian-influenced version of the classic Mexican dish.
Inside the dining room at Cuff.
One sentence to describe Cuff: A really good fit for the neighborhood, over delivering on quality and value. That's what we want to be.
What menu are you most proud of so far? You know, the posole I would probably have to say number one, just because its making everybody so happy. But also, the second most popular entree is the brisket and I think the Eggplant Parmesan sandwich has really been a highlight too.
How does the dinner menu differ from the lunch menu? Well, the core menu right now is the same. But basically, we'll be adding a daily seafood specials to dinnertime and then by the end of the month we'll probably publish a separate dinner menu. What I really want right now is for people to come in for their first visit later in the day. I want them to see the low prices and see what we're about.
How would you characterize the bar happenings? I think it may actually be the best part of the restaurant. We built that new, beautiful bar and the cocktail list is killer. We worked with Travis Nass, a mixologist at Lon's at The Hermosa. He's great because I basically gave him ideas for ten cocktails I wanted to do and then he came back with a recipe that actually works and tastes really good. I think our bar program is great.
What's the biggest difference for you between Eddie V's and Cuff? I'd say probably the greatest luxury for me is the approach we're able to take with our team, with the crew here. I've got some really experienced servers and we've basically been able to empower them to be involved in the process of setting up what our systems are going to be. I think that's been...it's really inspired a lot of piece of mind in them. When you're a chef at a big company, you have some systems that have to be what the have to be. But I really enjoyed getting to build systems from the ground up. I would say almost the relationship with the team has been the nicest part about me having the last word.
If you could cook any style of cuisine, what would you be cooking? Well, this is basically exactly the kind of place I'd want to eat if I lived over here in the West Valley. And the main thing I want is a beginning point for the food and I'm starting to feel really good that we've hit the point really well. I want food that we're able to execute right and for that to be our guiding philosophy - as long as we have that everything else follows.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with? Meat wise it's always gonna be pork. If there was only gonna be one meat, it'd be pork. It's like that kind of put pork in everthing has gotten a little cliché and over done but there's a reason why - because it tastes the best. And as far as vegetables I'm really into Asian vegetables. Every time I do something with bok choy I just look at it and go, "I think bok choy is my favorite vegetable." I just kind of say it to nobody in particular. It's just so luscious and it quenches your thirst and it's crunchy...so yeah, I guess those two things. Pork and bok choy. I bet nobody has ever said those two things before!
What newfangled kitchen tool do you think will be next to make it into home kitchens? Well I think it's already happening now but Vitamix blenders at home. There's just nothing else that duplicates the texture for a soup. I like making our vinaigrette with it. I'll just a food processor for a Ceasar and stuff like that but you know, like when we make our peach vinaigrette I want a lot of peaches in it because that gives the dressing body, and the Vitamix lets you get the garlic and shallots and herbs and everything pureed really smooth. The other thing I've seen people getting is - our potato ricers is a big one with a stand, but I think a home cook , if people knew how nice it is to have a ricer and to just be able to push a potato through that thing, it's a really nice thing to have.
What do you think is the most overrated thing people are buying? It's an old answer but I think people buy way too many knives. In an average day I just three knives and that's a chef's knife, a serrated knife for cutting bread, and maybe a butcher knife to cut meter fish, although half the time I'll uyse my chef's knife to do that too. I don't own a knife roll. People could save a lot of money; just buy a good chef's knife that's all you need really.
What is your favorite cookbook? You know, as I look back over the years I would have to say the Babbo cookbook, Batali's first one, is something I just still go back to for ideas. Eating in his restaurants and reading his cookbooks has always reminded me that no matter what techniques you did, when you're finished, taste it. And if it needs more flavor, do something to give it more flavor. There's always a way to put a little more flavor at the end.
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