Brett Vibber of Tempe's Center Bistro

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Check back later this week for a recipe.

What are you looking to bring to the table at Center Bistro?
It was previously a coffee spot, a quick breakfast spot, lunch. We'll expand out into dinner, full liquor license, catering....We have a big event center on the third floor. We're going to start an urban grocery. Creating a local wine list of all Arizona wines, all Arizona beers, and really just focusing on the highest quality ingredients that I can possibly find....Seafood I fly fresh daily from Honolulu and New Bedford.

You say about 90% of the ingredients used are local, what isn't?
I get the [risotto rice] shipped from my friend in Italy. The place I worked at in Italy, they age it for a year in oak wine barrels, and it breaks it down a little bit. It breaks down the starch on the outside and as you bring it out a year later it's been dried a bit more and I get a nice, much more creamy consistency.

Barrel-aged risotto, we've never heard of that before! I never had it until three years ago, it was a new guy I worked for, we did a stop over just south of Assisi and he took me into his wine cellar and had a bunch of wine aging and said, "Those two are my risottos."...I'd never heard of it, I didn't know a thing about it and when I sat down and ate his risotto I realized this was the best risotto I'd ever had.

Italy, huh? Tell us more!
I was working for Bruce Yim in Tucson at Vin Tabla and that's where he had done his apprenticeships when he was younger, twenty years ago. It was just a suggestion. I was probably at the point in my career where I was 21 years old, I was trying to decide whether culinary school was for me, and he told me it wasn't. I was too far into my culinary career to do that. And so I went. I got hooked up with a couple of people through him but the others were just forming friendships with local people.

Where did you go first, what was it like?
Fish out of water. I got off the plane in Rome and I didn't even know how to get from the airport to Rome. You know, it's outside of the city, so I managed to get myself onto a train and then I got to the Grand Terminal in Rome....As an American that's never been to Rome you expect to get off the airplane, probably walk out of the airport and the Coliseum is going to be here and Vatican City is right next to it, and the Spanish Steps are going to be right there, and the Trevi Fountain. All the things you've seen in pictures you have no idea how to put together in a huge, crazy city.

And what did you do?
I wandered around for about six hours with my backpack. I mean, that's all I took with me was a backpack and eight changes of clothes. I ended up being there for much longer than eight changes of clothes.

How did you get jobs?
When I started walking around, I started eating. When I saw something I really liked I struck up a conversation with the chef. For the most part they're intrigued that you're intrigued. It's a universal bond. Chefs like talking to one another about their food and about what's different. I got a place working, learning how to make pasta in the streets of Rome in the Coliseum within a couple of days.

And did you travel and work elsewhere in Italy?
[The man i worked for recommended] this little town called Spoleto up in the mountains of Umbria. He didn't give me anyone to talk to or anyone he knew, per se. I managed to get myself on a train to Spoleto in the next few days and got off and luckily it wasn't nearly as big as Rome but I had no idea to go left or right outside of the train station. I went right and found some pizza I liked and started learning how to make pizza in the Italian tradition. From there I made friends and stayed put a little bit longer.

And how much time have you spent in Italy?
I've been in Italy almost two years total. The longest I stayed was two months here and three months there. Most of the time I had a job here in the U.S. so it would be a work leave or knowing I was coming to the end of one job, before I found a new job I'd head back over to Europe and see what I could figure out.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our chat with Brett Vibber.

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