The kitchen at FnB restaurant (7133 E. Stetson Dr., 480-254-9463) isn't where it should be. Rather than safely hidden behind closed doors in a back room, the Scottsdale eatery's pots, pans, grills and blenders are out in the open, smack in the middle of the Technicolor tile floor. Tiny tables and chairs face the kitchen's simple stainless steel countertop like a theater, and Charleen Badman is the lead. The designer of the food menu as well as the drink menu, Badman's honed her talents at Inside -- a restaurant in New York she co-owned -- as well as at Scottsdale's Rancho Pinot. She's been at FnB for nearly a year now serving up dishes and cocktails done simple, local and right.
Did you start as a bartender or as a chef?
I've always been a cook. It became kind of popular about ten years ago for chefs to come out from the kitchen and go behind the bar. I think bartenders were also interested in using more herbs and fresh fruits, so those two paths just ended up kind of crossing one another. When I came from New York to Arizona, I was working for Chrysa Kaufman at Rancho Pinot and I helped them before Travis Nass arrived. I would test everything out on Chrysa; she has a really good palate, and doesn't like things too sweet. I would spend my weekends with her making cocktails. I was able to kind of experiment there, and when Pavle and I opened this place up, I was able to take that with me. These are the cocktails I like.
How do you do cocktails differently?
One of the things I like to do with my drinks is make sure that all of the parts -- the liquor, the juices, the syrups --are cold to begin with. I think you're cheating people if you use things at room temperature because it just melts the ice. So we keep everything we use in a refrigerator. We also try to always make sure there were never more than five ingredients in a cocktail.
To kind of pair it with the style of my food, which is simple as well. I just try to keep a balance between the beverage program and the food that's coming out, to ensure that one doesn't overshadow the other.
You do a lot of infusions here. How does that work?
Infusing the alcohol means you're just taking out a step, really. Instead of muddling your fruits, you mix them into the vodka beforehand so the vodka picks up the flavor of the fruit. Sometimes you want to muddle so you can get that fresh fruit juice in there, but sometimes you want to adjust for consistency or avoid the drink becoming cloudy. It keeps the alcohol clear, but still really imparts that fruity or herbal flavor.
What makes infusing different?
It's so intense; the sugar content and everything is just really flavorful, so to be able to put that right into the alcohol makes for a really intense drink. I do it, too, because there are so many alcohols out there that are infused. But I think we can make them ourselves, make them more flavorful and not fake-tasting. I get a more intense, more real flavor than I would using something a company has made. We infuse Maker's Mark with mint for a mint julep. In the winter I like to infuse Wild Turkey with cinnamon, clove and allspice --make sort of a spiced holiday liquor -- and do an old-fashioned with that. I'm surprised there aren't more people out there that do their own infusions.
Is it hard to balance being a cook and bartender at the same time?
Well, the waiters make the drinks. But I'm always on them. It's just like being a cook back here -- you have to taste everything. It's the same thing I have to do in the kitchen that I have to do back there: make sure we're tasting the product, dating it, making sure it's not too old, figuring out if we need more tomorrow. It's just the same. Balancing, running around, making sure everybody's on it.
What's different about FnB than previous places you've been?
The big difference would be that I'm out in the open as opposed to being in a room in the back. Here you're in front of the guests, talking to the guests. We chit-chat while we're cooking; we serve them ourselves a lot of the time.
Was it difficult to adjust?
The first two weeks, I was sick to my stomach. I didn't think I could do it. I was like, how do I cook and chat and be in front of all these people? I'm shy like that. I just had to get over it or go home.
Would it be weird going returning to back of house now?
Yeah, I would really miss it. A lot of the guests that were regulars back at Rancho or who saw me when we first opened are like, what happened to the Charlene from 10 months ago? I would just not make eye contact. It was Pavle who just kind of kicked me out of the gate. He told me I have to smile and put some charm on there, because that's what these people want. So I do.
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Did I hear Pavle [FnB's host with the most] talking about tattoos with you earlier?
Yeah. We're talking about getting FnB tattoos for our first-year anniversary. He wants to do something that has to do with a wine corkscrew, and I'm going to do something that has to do more with the kitchen. We have skin; why not cover it up? I have a couple little ones already. I'm getting a leek put on my arm soon.
Why a leek?
There's a dish that I created a while ago -- I don't really like to have a "signature dish," and it's not even on the menu right now, because it's not in season -- but we have a dish made with braised leeks, fresh-grated mozzarella, fried egg and mustard bread crumbs. It's going to be featured in Food Magazine as one of the top ten dishes in the country in December. I'm still getting little chills about it.
Check back tomorrow for a chill-inducing cocktail recipe from Charleen Badman.