Cullen Campbell Crudo 3603 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix 602-358-8666 www.crudoaz. com
This is part one of my interview with Cullen Campbell, chef-owner of Crudo. Come back on Tuesday when Cullen explains why he has a soft spot for Emeril Lagasse and the local chef he considers a mentor.
Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Cullen Campbell always knew he would produce art in some form. He took art classes throughout high school and college -- so many in college, in fact, that it took him forever to earn a degree in business management from ASU. His high school gig at a bagel shop may have been more about cash than creativity, but when he started attending cooking classes at Mantia's (a chef-driven BYOB in Memphis) right out of high school, the owner took notice of his enthusiasm and offered him a job. He worked there as dishwasher and prep cook for two years, watching Food Network whenever he could.
Because his dad lived in Arizona, Campbell moved here in the late 90's, where he began to build an impressive resume. His first job out of the gate was with Gregory Casale of Gregory's World Bistro. Campbell stayed with Casale for three and a half years, absorbing all he could before moving to House of Tricks, where he was chef de cuisine for another two years. When La Grande Orange opened the pizzeria next to the market, Campbell jumped on board because he knew the experience would "up his game."
He learned managerial skills (including "awareness") and the art of making great pizza dough before moving to Atlas Bistro -- where founding chef-owner Carlos Manriquez presided at the time. Campbell knew everyone there and Atlas became his fall-back whenever he was out of work. In 2005, he opened Camus at the Clarendon Hotel, a restaurant so fraught with issues that Campbell moved to Fine's Cellar -- a restaurant and retail wine shop -- before Camus closed. He stayed at Fine's for a year, but the restaurant struggled, given that the retail end of the business never really took off.
Deciding it was time to do his own thing, Campbell opened Crudo with his friend and partner Brandon Crouser in a boutique hair salon in 2010. Although the food earned positive reviews, customers weren't so sure about the space, and Crudo Scottsale closed a year and a half later. In April of this year, Campbell opened Crudo with his new partner Micah Olson (the talented mixologist who runs Bar Crudo) in the tucked-away space that once housed Backstreet Bistro. Spacious and sparely furnished, the elegant pared down room reflects Campbell's food -- so simple and so lovely it could rightly be called "art."
Five words to describe you: Creative, Calm, Jovial, Passionate, Adventurous
Four words to describe Crudo: Simple, Unique, Comfortable, Raw
Favorite food smell: Sautéed Onions and Garlic
Name an ingredient you love to cook with and explain why: Squid Ink. It's always fun to try new dishes with it. The concentrated sweet sea flavor makes it unique and a good addition to other seafood ingredients.
Most over-rated ingredient: I don't believe there is one, as long as it is prepared well and balanced
Most under-rated ingredient: Lardo
Something always found in your kitchen: Vinegar
Something never found in your kitchen: Butter. We love to cook with all natural fats.
Something always found in your fridge: Arugula from Maya's Farm
Trend you wish would go away: Skinny jeans for males.
Trend you like: Local. Supporting Local.
Buzzword you wish would go away: Casual fine dining. We are all casual fine dining. No need to state it. If your cooking were a genre of music, what would it be?: The Blues. We put emotion into our cooking.
Your thought process behind the Crudo menu: I fell in love with the Italian way of sashimi-style fish, and I fell in love with the simplicity of Italian cooking and the quality of ingredients they use. Moving into our current space, I was able to expand the menu, broadening our options for our guests and being able to please all palates.
Why did you choose this concept?: Having each guest create their own coursing menu was something I did so everyone could experience more of the menu and choose what sounded appealing to them.
You have pig ears on the menu. Did you think they'd be a tough sell?: Yes, I was WRONG! They are one of the most ordered items. I under estimated our guests and thought they would never eat ears or any unusual pig part for that matter.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: 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