Last Thursday, Brett Vibber, one of the area's most freewheeling culinary talents, closed longtime Cave Creek staple Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine to focus on his next concept. He plans to call that concept called WILD.
At somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 seats, WILD will be far smaller than Cartwright’s. “175 seats in 2020?” Vibber says. “It just doesn’t make sense for how I want to serve food.”
And so Vibber is collaborating with builders to tailor his next space, from kitchen design to wall art, to his New Arizonan style of cooking. “It’s the evolution,” Vibber says, who is moving on from the pirate-flagged kitchen he helmed for the last six years, three as a co-owner. “It’s the next step. I’ve always promised myself I’m never going to stop evolving.”
ibber is known for his madcap approach to ingredients. At Cartwright’s, he captained foraging teams who rose before the sun, hiking into Arizona’s far-flung wild places to pluck grapes and acorns and lobster mushrooms and palo verde sprouts. For more than 200 days a year, his teams combed the Sonoran Desert and/or northern Arizona forests, preserving ephemeral ingredients through drying, jamming, smoking, pickling, dehydrating, vinegaring, and other techniques, so that they could be used throughout the year. Vibber and his team then applied global techniques to their bounty, resulting in novel dishes deeply rooted in place and time.
Halibut with Ramona Farms red corn and spruce vinegar. Venison tartare with saguaro fruit jam. Navajo-style steam corn ice cream. Over the past year, Vibber’s food became even more experimental: acorn butter, tepary bean miso, saguaro fruit vinegar.
Vibber says that WILD will most likely be in Old Town Scottsdale, but he has left the door open to another Cave Creek restaurant, and even to decamping to Cottonwood. He says the restaurant will have a tight selection of a la carte plates but a strong tasting menu focus. The foraging program will be its core, even if the restaurant is as south as Old Town. At its wild heart, too, will be Vibber’s nascent farm to the north. “I’ve just acquired five acres in New River,” he says. “That’s going to be the backbone of the new concept.”
Vibber is planting that property now, with the help of farmers like Jon Naughton of Mountain Sky Farms. He is focusing largely on plants his staple farmers aren’t growing. Vibber says he was inspired by Reevis Mountain School's farm, which is encircled by Tonto National Forest, in purchasing his plot. “It’s a farm placed in the middle of the wild,” he says, “and that’s what I want.”
The first crop should be ready in March 2020. Coinciding with it, Vibber hopes to open WILD then.
The saguaro-jamming, acorn-milling chef will be joined as co-owner by one of his Cartwright’s sous chefs, Jaren Bates. Bates co-pilots the steam corn program, helps Vibber devise his experimental misos, and has cooked with Vibber going back more than a decade to their time at Roka Akor in Scottsdale.
“When is a good time to close a restaurant?” Vibber muses. “Never. But if I have a good idea as a chef, I shouldn’t sit back on it. I should execute it.”
If the restaurant proceeds as planned, WILD will be an exciting place to eat for people who seek Arizona ingredients and innovation.