This is part two of our interview with Adam Brown, the executive chef of Noca in Phoenix. Brown's been in charge of things since the restaurant resumed dinner services last month, after a months-long hiatus that began when the previous chef stepped down. On Tuesday, we heard from Brown and the restaurant's owner, Eliot Wexler, and today we're back to learn more about the chef and how he'll put his own stamp on the Noca menu.
When Claudio Urciuoli left Noca last fall, Wexler knew there were only two people he would consider for the job, he says. So he asked Brown whether he'd be interested in coming back to Arizona, and Brown said yes.
"This has always been home," Brown says, referring to the kitchen at Noca.
It would be months before he could give notice and leave his position in Austin, but by December, Brown was back in the Valley. From there, it was a whirlwind to get dinner service back up and running, though thankfully Brown and Wexler have a number of staff members who have been with the restaurant for years, they say.
For now, it's a fine balance between just getting things back up to speed and working a few of Brown's more personal touches into the menu. And though both Wexler and Brown say they're trying to keep the menu constant, they've already made quite a few changes since opening on Friday, February 14.
One of the additions includes pierogi, a tip of the hat to Brown's childhood in Ohio and his grandmother's Polish cooking.
As far as actually running the kitchen goes, the young chef says he hasn't really faced many difficulties from the staff -- though looking at his résumé, it's obvious this isn't his first time running the show. Plus, he's a pretty humble guy.
"I'm not trying to prove what I know," Brown says. "Because at the end of the day, I'm as open to learning as they are."
Seeing Brown back in the kitchen at Noca is like having things come full circle for Wexler, who earnestly compares his new executive chef to Roy Hobbs in the 1984 film The Natural. And the best part for the owner might be that his chef clearly "gets it" -- as in, what Noca is all about.
"The ingredients we get are exciting," Brown says. "When you get that package, it's like a present."
One movie you think everyone should see and why: The Ames Test. It's about carcinogens in natural "organic" fruits and vegetables, as opposed to standard ones that are exposed to pesticide. It's very interesting, and it's on YouTube.
My current obsession is: The restaurant. There is no time for anything else.
One place you think everyone should eat (that's not Noca) and why: That is a hard one to answer.
Favorite dish on the menu and why: I can't really choose just one, but if I have to it would be pierogi, because it's something I grew up with and is very homey to me. It is one of the first things I used to cook when I was little.
I wish Phoenix had a: Dining crowd that liked to eat like I do. It's wishful thinking, I know.
One dish you miss from your childhood in Ohio: My grandmother ("Baba") and mother's pork sauerkraut and dumplings. It was definitely a hearty dish, and we always had it around the holidays. It's something you always could count on putting you into a food coma.
If you could invite any five guests to a dinner party, who would you want to be there?: My grandfather, who has since passed, but he was always one of my biggest supporters and a riot at the dinner table. Baba would have to be there because the two of them together was a whole other level of entertainment; and I would probably have my parents and one of my good childhood friends who I grew up with since I was 1 year old.
Most people list numerous famous chefs, but I think I would be too nervous to have them there. Having them try my food, I would be a wreck.
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If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow where would you go?: Spain, Italy, Japan, or France. It's hard to decide on just one because they all have such an influential part in cuisine, and I would need to go to all of them to give a honest answer.
One national/international restaurant you want to eat at this year: I have a list of so many that I would need to quit my job and win the lottery to accomplish it.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Steve Kraus - Press Coffee Roastery Jason Raducha and Claudio Urciuoli - Noble Bread Sasha Raj - 24 Carrots Nick LaRosa - Nook Joey Maggiore - Cuttlefish Country Velador - Super Chunk Sweets and Treats James Porter - Petite Maison Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay