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6 Arizona Food and Drink Pros You Need to Know

Chef Chris Smith with a plate of his house-made pastas at Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria in Cottonwood.
Chef Chris Smith with a plate of his house-made pastas at Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria in Cottonwood.
Merkin Vineyards & Osteria
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Chef Chris Smith of Merkin Vineyards Osteria in Cottonwood

For Chef Chris Smith, cooking in a couple of kitchens in an Arizona art colony and small town turned into a big opportunity. After eating at Asylum Restaurant in Jerome several times when Smith was chef there, multi-platinum-selling musician turned Arizona winemaker Maynard James Keenan picked him to lead the culinary team at his new concept, Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria in Cottonwood.

Grace Unger of Tuck Shop.
Grace Unger of Tuck Shop.
Robrt Pela

Grace Unger of Tuck Shop

Grace Unger comes from a long line of professional foodies. She grew up making sausages in her grandfather’s food lab in Sedona. Her father worked in the meat industry and ran restaurants.

“You know how sometimes when you go out to eat, you’re just blown away by a certain dish?” Unger asks. “Our goal is to make Tuck Shop like that, every time you come in.”

Founder Matt Tolnick in the spice room at Lawless Jerky, based in Phoenix.
Founder Matt Tolnick in the spice room at Lawless Jerky, based in Phoenix.
Lauren Cusimano

Lawless Jerky Founder Matt Tolnick

The backstory is in the name at Lawless Jerky. The law was becoming less interesting for founder Matt Tolnick, so the former defense litigator left his 80-hour-week lawyer job and started a beef jerky company in Santa Monica before he relocated operations to Phoenix.

The man now lives for his company.

“Everything I do has some angle to jerky,” Tolnick says. “When your whole life is thrown into it, it becomes, hopefully, a healthy obsession.”

Jeff Malkoon of Peanut Butter Americano.
Jeff Malkoon of Peanut Butter Americano.
Courtesy of Peanut Butter Americano

Peanut Butter Americano’s Jeffrey Malkoon

Peanut Butter Americano’s Jeffrey Malkoon is something of a golden boy – a world citizen with a humanitarian heart, a loyal Phoenix native with an entrepreneurial brain, and a millennial. In a past life, he studied Arabic, worked a stint at the British Parliament in London, and lived briefly in Jordan, building a CV to work for the CIA or State Department, but this Coronado-born Phoenician can’t seem to let his hometown go.

Breann and Ben Bowman of Simple Soda Co. in Mesa

Breann Bowman is no Instagram amateur. That’s why when she and her husband, Ben Bowman, began their start-up Simple Soda Co., she told him, “Listen here, this Instagram has to be fresh.” Fresh may be just the word; a scroll through their feed of bright-white, minimalistic photos evokes the taste of their punchy citrus sodas.

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