Rio Bravo

He's charming, super-intelligent, and he makes a better bouillabaisse than you do. He's 11-year-old chef Rio Bowerman, a gourmet kid with a closetful of cooking gear and a featured spot on several local television shows. While most little boys are out shooting hoops and spitting, Chef Rio is indoors, chopping shallots and spit-roasting a guinea hen. He has a celebrity endorsement from the world's most expensive cookware company, a fondness for a good cigar, and the vocabulary of a 40-year-old. While a pair of noisy cockapoos growled and snapped at my heels, Chef Rio spoke to me about high tea, herb sorbet, and the importance of good cutlery.

New Times: Should I call you Chef Rio?

Rio Bowerman: Yes. I prefer that.

NT: How'd you get your start?

Bowerman: When I was seven or eight months old, I would wake my mom up, and ask her to get me dressed and take me into the kitchen so I could start cooking. I would select a specific spice, and I'd smell it and then I would make my mom take me to the store to get food that I thought would complement this particular herb.

NT: Eight months old? So it's always been about food for you.

Bowerman: Yeah. Always. Everything involves food. It's my life. (Indicates stack of magazines on coffee table.) When I'm not cooking food, I'm reading about food.

NT: And cigars. Why do you have a copy of Cigar Aficionado?

Bowerman: I love cigars. I'm only allowed to smoke them on New Year's Eve. A couple puffs. I've always found cigars to be very classy, and a sign of success. But you never should inhale cigar smoke, it's not good.

NT: I'll try to remember that. Now, most kids' idea of cooking is fixing a bowl of cereal.

Bowerman: Most kids think making a package of Kraft Easy Mac is cooking. Just fixing Oreos and milk is a huge accomplishment for them.

NT: Do you ever sneak garbage food, like baloney and peanut butter sandwiches?

Bowerman: I don't eat baloney. Definitely not. Or Spam! It just isn't right. And don't believe it when they say that chefs can be found in a fast-food drive-through line, ordering the Number Six combo. I would rather eat my food than somebody else's steroid-injected whatever. My favorite local restaurant is Harris', and Vincent's is good. I shop at La Grande Orange, that's where I get a lot of my French ingredients, and I really love the chef at Mary Elaine's. I love to eat at Postino, but it gets kind of very loud there.

NT: Do other kids think you're wacko because you're at home, making beignets?

Bowerman: They get it. Occasionally, when I'm on TV, they'll ask me to bring in what I made because it looked good to them. They appreciate it that I do this; they just think it's neat. I've recruited sous chefs once or twice from kids who think they're interested in cooking. Or I'll be cooking at a home and garden show, and some kid will come up and grate some cheese for me or whatnot.

NT: You're a TV star!

Bowerman: Well, I'm a regular on Good Day Arizona, and I'm on Jan D'Atri's show twice a month. I'm pushing for my own show with the Food Network. I sent them my master reel of all my TV appearances, and I'm still waiting to hear back from them.

NT: Your mom tells me you have attention deficit disorder. Does that get in the way when you're cooking?

Bowerman: Oh, no. Never when I'm cooking. But if I were reading something on, say, racecar driving -- something I'm not interested in at all -- I can't pay attention to it. But if it's a Dean & DeLuca catalogue, I not only can pay attention, but after I'm done I can quote cookware prices from it from memory.

NT: Do you entertain your friends by cooking for them?

Bowerman: I do. Ever since I was a toddler, I've always invited people over for dinner. But kids don't usually have a really refined palate, and it's hard to get them to try things. To get my best friend, Andy Miller, to eat something new is hard. I had to trick him into eating bruschetta by telling him it was like uncooked pizza.

NT: What about when you go to another kid's house for lunch, and his mom serves white bread and lunch meat?

Bowerman: Well, let's just say that if there's a dog under the table, it really makes the situation easier to get through. And if there's a trash can nearby, that's good, too. To make up for it, I'll usually end up offering to make a dessert, which always saves the day.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela