“Never underestimate the power of a simple, good meal.” That’s the maxim of Chef Akos Szabo of Match Cuisine and Cocktails at Found:RE, Tim Sprague’s art hotel recently opened on Portland Street in downtown Phoenix.
Born in Burbank, California, to a Guatemalan mother and Hungarian father, Szabo remained in California until he was 13, after which he toured the world, with stops in Mexico, Massachusetts, Guatemala, Indiana, and Chicago. He kept an eye peeled on cuisine in each of those places, eventually settling in Arizona, where he attended culinary school and wound up as executive chef at the Phoenician’s posh Mary Elaine’s. Restless as ever, Szabo did master chef stints in Laguna Beach, California, and Chicago before returning to the valley to launch Match in October.
At his new post, diners will find Szabo selling cuisine he calls “global street food.” It’s a menu built, he says, on tastes from as far away as Cambodia and Vietnam, and as nearby as New Orleans.
“I’m looking at what people are eating in Thailand and Mongolia,” he says. “And then I’m replicating those things with ingredients from Arizona. People seem pretty happy about it.”
A hotel restaurant provides a particular challenge, Szabo says. “We’re cooking for people who are in town for a short time and want to experience something Southwestern while they’re here,” he explains. “So I want the food to say, ‘Here’s what local beef tastes like.’ We’ll make a basic burger from Arizona beef and serve it on ciabatta bread from Noble Bread. You’re ordering food you recognize from home, but it’s got a taste of Arizona.”
Even the wood used to create what Szabo calls “the perfect fire” is local: his pecan, almond, and mesquite kindling are all from locally grown trees. The name of the restaurant came from that wood, in fact. “Match is a name that states what we’re doing — striking a match and cooking on raw wood, every piece of which is unique. No smelly kerosene fire, which can make your food taste like chemicals. Getting the perfect fire is an art! If it’s too hot, all you’ll get is burnt meat. There’s no art in that.”
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That rule about cooking with local ingredients is a firm one: Szabo’s making meals with foodstuffs from Crow’s Dairy, Noble Bread, Recycled City, Cochise Cattle Company, Mediterra Bakehouse, and the Orchard Community. These bits come together in breakfast specialties like an eggs Benedict on herbed focaccia with pancetta and Tuscan kale.
Your lunch can commence with a treasured lobster bisque recipe Szabo has resurrected from his Mary Elaine’s days, and dinner can feature steak frites served with Albufera sauce or black garlic butter. Diners have gone nuts for Szabo’s oven-roasted Moroccan lamb meatballs, served with organic tomato chutney and Meyer lemon.
In Match’s bar, the Caipirinha do Dia is most popular, although it doesn’t cause as much commotion as does a house cocktail, made with condensed milk, chicory, and Armagnac, titled An Examination of French Imperialism and Its Influence on the Globe. People ask about that one often.
“There are a lot of hotels that have restaurants in them,” Szabo says. “We want to be a restaurant that happens to have rooms for rent.”