Justin Beckett Beckett's Table 3717 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix 602-954-1700 www.beckettstable.com
This is part one of my interview with Justin Beckett, chef and co-owner of Beckett's Table. Come back on Tuesday when Beckett names the chef he'd like to spend a week with and offers great advice to up-and-comers in the business.
Justin Beckett grew up in a family he calls "traveling hippies." His mother once lived in Haight-Ashbury, while his father ditched a demanding electrician's career to wind surf in Hawaii. As the eldest of five children, Beckett, who often helped out with the cooking, remembers burning brown rice and doing terrible things to tofu. But he's not the least bit scarred by his experiences. If anything, his constant connection to the kitchen (he was a restaurant dishwasher in 7th grade) set him on the path that led to Beckett's Table.
Not a wanderer by nature, Beckett knew what he wanted early on. Four days after high school, he was enrolled in culinary school, working in restaurants as he completed the program. After his externship at Roy's in Hawaii, he took a job as prep cook at the Roy's in Monterey, CA. Fourteen months later, he came to Phoenix as the sous chef of the Roy's in the Esplanade, later opening other Roy's restaurants in metro Phoenix and California. When the Esplanade location closed, he left the company and bounced around a bit, eventually helping Chuck Wiley open Café ZuZu at the Hotel Valley Ho and Trader Vic's, where he stayed until Fred Unger invited him to open FoodBar, Canal and Metro Brasserie.
By the time Canal closed in the summer of 2009, Beckett was already entertaining the notion of owning his own place. He and his wife Michelle partnered up with longtime friends and restaurant people Scott and Katie Stephens (both level one wine soms) to open Beckett's Table in the fall of 2010. The place was an instant success, and two years in, it's become the sort of comfortable neighborhood fixture no one can remember ever living without.
Favorite food smell: I'm not sure I can narrow it to just one -- meatloaf coming out of the oven, bacon sizzling, garlic and shallots sautéeing in olive oil, roasting veal bones . . . Do you read cookbooks and if so, which ones?: I read some but mostly I let the pictures do the talking. I really like Southern cookbooks. I love the simplicity and depth of flavors from the South.
Name an ingredient you love to cook with and why: Any secondary cuts of meat, meats that are meant to be braised to become tender. It's amazing the depth of flavors and the tenderness you can impart to a product that's a "castaway" or a "second." Take a piece of coal and turn it into a diamond.
If you weren't a chef, you would be: In architecture and design of some sort... something where I could still create and use that side of my brain.
Describe your fantasy restaurant: Something with a ridiculous view, maybe something in an area that didn't have such torturous summer weather for months, sky-lights in the kitchen, gadgets coming out of every wall, armies of people to execute every task meticulously. Architecture would be very prominent, not too over the top with design but absolutely a beautiful room on its own.
Name a culinary mentor: Roy Yamaguchi [of Roy's Restaurants]. I loved his philosophy of fusion and incorporating lots of ingredients, techniques and styles of cooking together.
What did you learn at Roy's that you use today at Beckett's Table?: How to make beurre blanc . . . lots and lots of beurre blanc.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: 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