84: Gwen Ashley Walters

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From now 'til we publish the 2012 edition of Best of Phoenix, New Times and Chow Bella present 100 Tastemakers -- Valley residents who make the cut in our culinary scene. Some you'll know; for others, it'll be a first introduction (but likely not the last). While you're here, check out our 100 Creatives on Jackalope Ranch.

Today: a woman you'll never recognize in public.

Tastemaker 84: Gwen Ashley Walters

The daughter of journalists, Gwen Ashley Walters is an accomplished food writer, professionally trained chef, a Certified Culinary Professional, and cookbook author. Her monthly critiques for Phoenix Magazine and features in Edible Phoenix reveal her passion for both words and food. Walters also is the publisher and editor of New Times' 2011 Best Food Blog, Pen & Fork. You can check her out on Twitter.

I arrived in Phoenix... in 1995 with the sole purpose of becoming a chef and then moving on to Montana to open a lodge. A funny thing happened on the way. I fell in love with Arizona, and I realized being a chef wasn't what I really wanted, although I'm glad I went to culinary school and worked for one of the best chefs in the Valley, Charles Wiley, who was the executive chef of The Boulders at the time.

I took a position as general manager of an exclusive fly-fishing lodge in Montana one summer after culinary school (sort of a trial run) and realized that wasn't what I wanted, either. What I really wanted to do is write. It's in my blood -- both my parents were journalists. After writing three cookbooks (featuring guest ranches and ski and golf resorts) and teaching cooking classes here and around the country for 10 years, I started writing about food and restaurants for the Arizona Republic and then Phoenix Magazine and Edible Phoenix. I am very fortunate (and grateful) I get to write for a living.

If I was sitting down to dinner for six, my five dream dining companions would be... I suppose I should name some famous culinarians, but I dined with Julia Child at The Greenbrier once, and serendipitously met Thomas Keller in his French Laundry garden, so I want to step out of the culinary box and bring together some great late minds in other fields.

I'd invite Thomas Jefferson and talk about his gardens at Monticello, and ask him where he dined in Paris while negotiating the Louisiana Purchase. Mark Twain should have a seat because he said "I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way," vindicating my spelling weakness. I'd love to have Albert Einstein at the table and talk about physics in the kitchen. Teddy Roosevelt would certainly have a seat because I want to thank him for his work on establishing national parks. The last seat would be reserved for my best friend -- my husband -- because he would be just as thrilled hosting these extraordinary minds, and I think he is equally smart.

One place everyone who comes to Phoenix must eat is... I can't name just one -- dining is about choices. Two cuisines say "Arizona" to me: Mexican and Native American. I'd say Barrio Café for upscale Mexican, or even better, drive up to Sedona and eat at Elote Café. Inexpensive Mexican? Tacos Atoyac or Los Reyes de la Torta. Native American? The Fry Bread House for cheap eats and Kai for fine dining.

One menu item this city could do without is... I don't think anything is off the table if it is properly executed. The problem is there are too many dishes that aren't. I'm looking at you, fried calamari.

My last meal in Phoenix would be... my last meal anywhere would be a big, fat, juicy hamburger with crisp lettuce, ripe tomato, thinly sliced red onion, mustard, mayo, and a butter-toasted brioche bun. And, of course, [an order of] duck fat fries. Anyone know where I can get one?

The Tastemakers so far: 100: Tracy Dempsey 99: Craig DeMarco 98: Lara Mulchay 97: M.J. Coe 96: Betty Alatorre de Hong 95: Eric Schaefer 94: Hanna Gabrielsson 93: Shinji Kurita 92: Silvana Salcido Esparza 91: Mike Pitt 90: Christina Barrueta 89: Christopher Gross 88: Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung 87: DJ Fernandes 86: Cullen Campbell 85: Chris Lee

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