Project Phoenix: How to Roast a Pig, Restore a VW, Distill Bourbon, Farm Organically, and Make a Wedding Dress


Monique Sandoval made her wedding dress the night before her big day.

She sewed up the gown, which she describes as Mexican bohemian, with her step-grandmother, who taught her to use a needle and thread. She remembers the late night fondly. With antique crocheted fabric Sandoval found on Etsy and silk tulle, she completed the one-shoulder frock just hours before her Halloween ceremony at The Icehouse.


Project Phoenix: How to Roast a Pig, Restore a VW, Distill Bourbon, Farm Organically, and Make a Wedding Dress

That was about three years ago. The marital bliss has endured — and so has the dressmaking.

Of course, the Phoenix-based designer who heads up special-occasion label Ouma wouldn't necessarily recommend that course of fashion action to the average bride-to-be. For plenty of gals, picking out a wedding dress is a top priority when planning nuptials — not something to save for tying-the-knot eve.

"Your heart knows when you find what's right for you," Sandoval says of finding the perfect dress, whether it's in a store, online, or a sketch in a notebook.

She hopes when women come to Cleo & Clementine (www.cleoandclementine.com), her boutique and workspace bedecked with a neon sign on the Melrose Curve, one of her handmade designs will affect them in that romantic, splendid, this-is-your-destiny kind of way. The pieces have an ethereal, delicate look. When brides put the dresses on, they appear to float.

The designer describes her creations as classic but contemporary. She doesn't keep close tabs on fashion trends in the wedding world. "I just make what I want to make," she says.

Textures, silhouettes, and movement all play into how Sandoval looks at the world and what she designs. Ballet has been particularly impactful on her creations of late.

Sandoval, seamstress Rachel Regan, and Anna "Director of All Things Sparkle" Romero round out the team at Cleo & Clementine.

They all agree that Sandoval's design process begins with the fabric, which is crucial in creating Ouma's trademark light and lovely look.

For the designer, getting to know a material, how it lies, drapes, and can be manipulated, is of utmost importance. She counts SAS Fabrics as an invaluable resource, as Phoenix doesn't have a garment district like New York or Los Angeles. She'll buy fabric first and decide what to make from it later.

After choosing materials, she sketches. She says inspiration comes from all around her all the time: while watching movies, taking walks, visiting art museums, and reading books. "It's easy to get inspired," she says.

From there, things get more technical. She'll take measurements and map out the dimensions of the garment to create a pattern. "Sewing is all math," she says, laying out silk for a new dress on her cutting mat in the back room of her shop.

Today, she's putting together a wedding dress with a chevron bodice and striped skirt composed of silk chiffon and tulle. She guesses it will take a little more than a half-day — 12-ish hours of hands-on work — to complete the dress for an upcoming photo shoot highlighting her spring line, dubbed Daydream. That calculation does not include the time spent shopping and conceptualizing the dress before fabrication.

With help from Regan, Sandoval creates a muslin sample, a mockup of the dress, then checks its fit and begins cutting into the actual fabric. Depending on the custom order she's filling, she sometimes hand-dyes the fabric in-house. The sewing and assembly is a bit tedious, with many small steps like serging seams, lining flimsy silk for body and structure, and adding boning, which keeps the dress in place. "It's not a pretty world," she says of the inner sanctum of wedding dress creation.

Through these steps, the workroom falls silent. The dress demands the full attention of its makers, hunkered down over tables and equipped with sewing machines, multicolored pins, and heavy scissors. After the pieces are sewn together and the bodice is attached to the skirt, the seams are pressed.

The next morning, the completed bright white creation covers a mannequin, complete with a bow in the back. Perhaps the process isn't pretty, but the finished product is. — Becky Bartkowski

HOW TO ROAST A PIG | Guillermo Magana of Bink's Midtown

Though he's new to Central Phoenix, James Beard Award-nominated chef Kevin Binkley is no stranger to the Phoenix food scene.

Since opening Binkley's Restaurant in 2004, the molecular gastronomist has added three more restaurants to the mix — the most recent opening in Scottsdale about a month ago.

It comes less than a year after he opened Bink's Midtown (www.binksmidtown.com), the chef's first restaurant not located in Cave Creek or Carefree. Housed in a cozy cottage in Central Phoenix, the restaurant's menu is heavy on vegetables and focuses on themes of local, seasonal, and fresh. And though "all you can eat" isn't a phrase you'd expect to hear in any of his kitchens, Bink's Midtown started a weekly event in May offering just that.

Every week, diners gather for Pig on the Patio to dig into heaping plates of freshly cooked pork and side dishes of vegetables, rice, or potatoes.

As you can imagine, roasting a whole pig is a lengthy process and it begins, rather unceremoniously, with Bink's Midtown sous chef Guillermo Magana lugging out the restaurant's wooden roasting box. Emblazoned with "La Caja China" on the side, the aluminum-lined box can hold a 100-pound pig, more than a dozen chickens or eight racks of ribs at any one time.

"It's basically a wooden Dutch oven," he says as he pours about 20 pounds of charcoal on top of the box.

Inside lies half a pig — he opens it to reveal one side of a pig that was divided right down the middle, from nose to tail — that amounts to about 75 pounds of uncooked animal. Magana starts to heat the heap of black rock with a small blowtorch, the sharp smell of gas cutting through fresh post-rain air. On this damp morning, Magana knows it will be particularly difficult (read: time-consuming) to get the charcoal heated and the pig fully cooked.

"It's not really something you can do just by time," he says. "And it depends on the weather."

In general, he says, it takes about 30 minutes just to get the box heated, then another five to get the pig to the correct internal temperature. The last hour of roasting serves mainly to make sure the skin is cooked to a crisp. Because Magana brines the pig overnight, he says, overcooking isn't really a concern.

"We try to cook it past the necessary time because, with the brine, it won't dry out," he says. "Actually, it will just become more tender."

On the day of our visit, Pig on the Patio has a Spanish theme. So Magana prepared two quarts of a brine appropriate to the theme (water, paprika, sugar, salt, lemon, and spices) in which the pig soaked overnight.

Once the heated coals can sustain themselves, the waiting game begins. It will be about an hour before they have mostly turned from black to white, at which point Magana will add another eight pounds to the pile. In another hour, he'll replenish the heap again, and that's when he'll begin thinking about flipping the pig.

It's noon by the time Magana cracks open the box to reveal a brown and black half-pig, four hours into the roasting process. With the help of an extra set of hands, the pig is flipped and Magana goes in search of the sharpest knife he can find. He then begins making a series of shallow crosshatched cuts in the pig's skin, scoring the skin just enough to let the fatty juices run out during the last leg of the roasting.

"That way it sort of bastes itself," he says.

Finally, he closes the box and adds one last mound of charcoal to the top. The additional fuel ensures that the box will get fiercely hot again, allowing the skin to achieve perfect crispness.

When he opens the box again two hours later, a perfectly roasted half pig awaits. Magana gingerly plucks a few pieces of meat from the animal's back leg with a pair of tongs.

"It's hot," he warns, offering a piece a juicy white meat, "so be careful." — Lauren Saria


"Let's play VWs," Randy Slack says.

It's a phrase the Phoenix artist and his fellow local Volkswagen lovers use when they want to meet up at Kevin Stramandinoli's Phoenix auto shop, Crown Restoration. The shop's a clubhouse of sorts, where Slack geeks out over obscure parts and hard-to-find models.

He's obsessed, he readily admits.

Slack traces his VW fixation back to his childhood. His dad always drove them. His first painting, at age 16, was of a Bug. He remembers sitting in his dad's Beetles in the garage as a kid, playing cars.

He's always tinkered with them, he says. And as far as cars go, they're some of the most accessible for aspiring hobbyists because of their simple construction. The obsession kicked in when Slack stopped drinking about nine years ago. He started to channel his free time into restoring vintage Volkswagens.

Currently he has three: a 1951 azure blue Beetle with a split rear window, semaphore turn signals, and a ragtop; a 1960 Westfalia Camper bus named Myrtle painted mango green and seagull gray; and an agave green 1957 right-hand drive Australian Beetle with a sunroof and oval rear window.

They're sitting in his downtown studio space, Legend City. The first two are intact and operable, and the oval's disassembled. With the studio's garage door open, passersby often mistake the art studio for an auto shop. They stop and want pictures with the bus, viewable from the sidewalk along Van Buren Street.

So, how does one start collecting and refurbishing vintage Volkswagens? Slack says the first and hardest part is finding the car. Driving around neighborhoods, browsing AutoTrader, and sifting through Craigslist are all good ideas. But Slack's number-one recommendation is using www.thesamba.com, a Phoenix-based website run by Everett Barnes that serves as a classifieds forum for VW enthusiasts. Users seek and sell everything from original engine mounts and PDF versions of old car manuals to rusty fixer-uppers.

Once you have the car, there are three paths you can take. The first: Make it run and roll with whatever patina the body's acquired. Second: Make it run, in addition to scuffing and painting it for a fresh look. Third: Take the whole thing apart and reassemble it with a purist's aesthetic.

Slack opts for the third modus operandi — the "insane" way of doing things. And that's where he's at with the oval. The pan, the body, and the engine are separated. There's no deadline to complete it, but he says a full revamp could be done in a year for someone who's mega-dedicated.

"In a weekend, you can go from a pan to ready to mount," he says. "It can look sharp real fast."

Cost-wise, a quick fix could amount to a couple grand (in addition to whatever's spent buying the car itself), but it all depends on what you want to do. For Slack, restoring his cars to as close as possible to their original look is the goal. And that takes time and lots of patience. Slack says he has to do maintenance on his bus constantly — getting under it, pushing it — and it maxes out at 55 miles per hour.

"You've gotta want to be in that thing," he says. "Those problems don't go away."

Then, there are the accessories. "I tend to play with the funny stuff, the accessories, the girly artsy part." He shows off an original bar set installed in the bus, a flying VW hood ornament, and a chrome clock.

Slack jokes that Stramandinoli is like his drug dealer when it comes to finding bits and pieces he wants for his VWs. "He has helped me make all my dreams come true — as nerdy as that sounds."

"It's like I'm a little kid," he says, poring over boxes of such VW odds and ends as Kamax bolts and an espresso maker designed to be mounted on the Beetle's dash.

Though his current refurb project will keep him plenty busy, there's one Volkswagen in particular that remains on his wish list: the very rare Hebmuller Cabriolet, also known as the Volkswagen Type 14A. It's a two-tone two-seat convertible that was only in production for four years.

"I am a sick man," he laughs, opening another box of parts. "It's like dream-come-true shit." — Becky Bartkowski

HOW TO DISTILL BOURBON | Rodney Hu of Arizona Distilling Company

If you're like Rodney Hu, Jason Grossmiller, and Jon Eagan of the Arizona Distilling Company, distilling bourbon begins with making a few good friends. After meeting in high school at Tempe's Marcos de Niza — with Hu later taking over operations at Yucca Tap Room and Grossmiller quitting his job as a blackjack dealer — they began the long process of opening a distillery in Tempe.

Liquor hadn't been made in Arizona since before Prohibition, so the permits to distill and the ensuing legal issues took about as much time as perfecting an Arizona bourbon recipe. For everyone else, their hard work means distilling craft spirits is now a reality in metro Phoenix.

Copper City Bourbon starts with a mash primarily consisting of corn, which is necessary for it to be classified as bourbon. The team also is working on the state's first local grain-to-bottle whiskey using Arizona desert durum wheat.

For the bourbon, a corn mixture is put through a hammer mill to be ground to a fine powder. That powder is then put into a mash tun, along with water, to make the slurry, which cooks approximately eight hours and ferments another five to seven days. The fermenting slurry builds its alcohol content during this stage and is roughly 900 gallons at this point, though only 300 gallons of it can be sent through the still at a time.

Once the mixture is finished fermenting, the actual distilling begins. The first run through the still is called a stripping run, which takes about 10 to 12 hours. At this point, the 13 percent alcohol by volume, 26 proof mash rises to 80 or 90 proof, which is then cut down to 65 proof. In the finishing still's run, the whiskey is separated into three cuts: heads, hearts, and tails. The hearts, which, according to Hu, "contain all the 'good' alcohol and flavors within the spirit," are kept for aging. The "bad alcohol," like trace amounts of methanol, are removed in the distilling process, leaving you with 160 proof alcohol in the end.

About 10 days after the grains were milled to a powder, the whiskey is finally ready for aging from an original 900 gallons of slurry to the 90 gallons of alcohol. Depending on the barrels used and the desired flavor of the end product, aging can take up to 25 years. Originally, Arizona Distilling Company began aging in 53-gallon barrels about five years ago.

As demand grew for their locally made spirit, they switched to a much smaller 10-gallon barrel. These barrels allow for more surface contact with the American oak, meaning more exposure to the wood and an aging time of under one year with the same resulting smoky vanilla flavor. Regardless of which barrel size is used, the next step is always filtering. If you've had the opportunity to sample a glass of Copper City Bourbon on the rocks, you've likely noticed its clarity when chilled. This clarity comes from the cold filtration process, resulting in a less cloudy, more smooth bourbon. "It's all about temperature control," Hu says. "When the still is heating, some alcohols have higher and lower boiling points. We are trying to get the exact boiling point of ethanol and maintain that temperature for as long as we can."

Now that the bourbon is ready to drink, it's also ready to bottle. The design of the logo and bottle were a joint effort by the team, which also includes George Yu and Matt Cummins, to pay homage to Arizona history. The name Copper City comes from the long defunct pre-Prohibiton era Douglas brewery of the same name, while the logo's font is borrowed from Phoenix's old Legend City amusement park. Eagan also is finalizing the bottle design for their upcoming gin release, which features botanicals and fruit like lavender, apple, citrus, and, of course, juniper.

So now that you know how to distill bourbon, you're ready to make your own, right?

Well, not quite. The hammer mill, mash tun, and still that Arizona Distilling Company uses are all American-made and the equipment is still pretty pricey. Even if you have the money to fork over for the right tools (or you've found a less expensive, more DIY way to do it at home), there's more to it than that.

"Everyone can have a still, but it is illegal to distill alcohol without the proper permits," Hu says. Due to their trailblazing with the state's liquor authority, that's at least a possibility for spirit lovers in Phoenix. Having liquor distilled in Arizona means a lot for the state's history, job creation, and tax revenue, but it also helps put Phoenix on the map as a serious contender for both small-batch craft spirits and mixology, in general.

Currently, the bourbon is on sale at local liquor stores like Tops, Sun Devil Liquors, and Gilbert Convenience Market. You can also find it in cocktails at bars including Crudo, Cartel Downtown, Little Woody, and (of course) Yucca Tap Room. — Heather Hoch


Joe Johnston's Arizona roots run deep. His parents planted the seed in 1960 with the purchase of a 160-acre farm in rural Gilbert, and Johnston's mark on the East Valley has been flourishing ever since.

As Johnston walks visitors through the much-transformed property, an urban farm nestled inside a housing development known as Agritopia (www.agritopia.com), he notes the repurposed remnants of the farm's past: the tractor shed turned coffee shop and childhood home that's been turned into Joe's Farm Grill. (Johnston also owns Joe's Real BBQ and Liberty Market in downtown Gilbert.)

Outside of these repurposed artifacts, Agritopia is an almost-unrecognizable evolution of its former self, a byproduct of Johnston's business-minded innovation and his openness to community ideas.

In this green development, the urban farm isn't just the focal point of the community, it's the fuel. In addition to providing communal plots for residents to grow their own organic produce, Johnston, his head farmer Erich Schultz, and their staff also use their year round harvest to supply CSAs, farmers markets, breweries, and other local establishments.

Of course, that harvest also is organic, because Johnston really wouldn't have it any other way. "The sin of greed has negatively impacted the food system. The desire to make things cheaper and make a little more money doing it has a bad effect in people's health and society, and if we can redeem it I'm all for it."

But growing organic and being labeled as organic are two separate things. While Johnston and his team have been using the same techniques since 2000, it wasn't until they received their USDA certification years later that they could truly call themselves "organic."

It started from the ground up because "healthy soil is foundational to organic gardening," says Johnston. "After that, the plants will really take care of themselves." To create healthy soil, Agritopia uses its own organic compost, which puts organic matter back into the soil. Johnston notes that this is particularly important in Arizona, as hot weather tends to deplete matter in the soil.

Those who don't have the time or resources to produce their own mulch or compost should use bags labeled "OMRI-certified," which stands for Organic Material Research Institute and can be found at basic gardening retailers. As a general rule for organic certification, farmers should use OMRI-certified products across the board,;this includes fertilizers and pesticides.

After the soil come the seeds. "You have to use organic seeds — at least you have to try your hardest to find them." If organic seeds simply can not be found, which Johnston indicates hardly is the case for anyone willing to put forth the effort, farmers must prove that they have tried at least three sources before settling for conventional seeds.

As for the inevitable bugs and weeds, there's a short list of products approved by the USDA in organic farming — pesticides extracted from plants and bacteria rather than straightforward chemicals. Johnston prefers to remain "a minimal interventionist." In this way, Agritopia is even more restrictive in its methods than the government, using only hands, hoes, and diligence to keep the produce-eating pests at bay.

When it comes time for inspection, the government leaves it up to the applicant to arrange a qualified third-party evaluation, choosing from a list of accredited organizations available online, then downloading and submitting their required paperwork.

These forms seek information about what pieces of land the applicant wants verified, what materials will be used, what crops will be grown, what seed sources will be used, what growing practices will be implemented, how the crops will be handled post-harvest, and how the farm plans on tracking all its distributed produce in the case that someone gets sick.

After that, representatives are dispatched to verify the information in person and examine the entire operation, from the seeds in the soil to what's on the shelves in the barn. Should an applicant's property offer both organic and conventional farming, appropriate boundaries between the two operations must be laid out and maintained.

Even after a farm becomes certified, it receives regular inspections. And should applicants want to take the next step by selling prepared organic foods, such as jams and salsa (which Agritopia hope to do in the future), they must undergo an entirely different certification process.

For now, Johnston and the Agritopia farm staff are certified to label only the ingredients in their products as organic. Still, it's a lot healthier than the mainstream alternative.

"Basically," Johnston says,"organic is just trying to get back to the way it was always done."

Which is kind of funny when you consider how hard it is to do. — Katie Johnson

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