As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.
Traci Zitzer and Russell "RJ" Johnson are one dynamic duo. After forming a friendship early on in middle school and going on to serve 30-plus years in the restaurant industry, the two business partners decided form Urban Table: A Working Chef's Market.
Starting their way at farmers markets and ultimately setting up Urban Table Larder inside Scottsdale's JAM Boutique, Zitzer and Johnson pride themselves on knowing both their products and their people.
"When we first started this business we decided to make two things very clear -- we had to laugh, because we're on the second half of our lives," says Zitzer. " [And secondly,] we decided if we were going to make this commitment, we would have to work with people who would want to learn, people who we would want to break bread with."
And true to form, in just a little over a year of starting their business, Zitzer and Johnson have broken bread with much of the growing foodie community in Phoenix -- tasting, sampling, and selling both their own products and the specialty goods of their vendors. Which is why, despite this being their first Caramelpalooza, Zitzer and Johnson are sure to be two of the more familiar faces there.
Caramel should always be... Traci: handmade RJ: local
One thing I miss from Chicago is... Traci: identity of the city RJ: Lou Malnati's Pizza
I wish ___ were always in season: Traci: Tomatoes RJ: Meyer Lemons
I don't allow ___ in my kitchen: Traci: processed foods or foods made from GMOs RJ: crying
I like my eggs... Traci: local farm fresh RJ: every way possible
When I turn on Food Network, I'm watching... Traci: Barefoot Contessa RJ: Chopped
One thing we'd be surprised to know about you is... Traci: I jumped out of a perfectly good plane on purpose RJ: I have two sets of twins
____ is the spice of life: Traci: Diversity RJ: Conversation
Biggest cooking faux pas: Traci: Quantity does not equal quality RJ: Not letting meat rest
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Favorite condiment: Traci: Chutneys RJ: Sriracha
One thing that's always on my grocery list: Traci: Mimolette Cheese RJ: Serrano peppers
If I could eat my way through one country it would be... Traci: Italy RJ: Mexico