Chef News

Charleen Badman: On Male Chefs, Cooking for Famous People, and the Irrelevance of Her Lady Parts

This is part two of my interview with Charleen Badman, chef and co-owner of FnB, AZ Wine Merchants and Bodega. If you missed part one, in which Badman praised Lori Hashimoto, described her first meeting with Chris Bianco's mom, and talked about the kitchen phrase she hates, read it here.

See also: -- Chrysa Robertson Dishes on Male Chefs, How She Handled a Customer Complaint and Why She's Not Really Arizona's Alice Waters -- Ankimo, the Foie Gras of Japan, Gets a Modern Tweak at Hana -- Braised Leeks Back on the Menu at FnB -- How to Be a Restaurant VIP and What It Will Get You Favorite thing to eat growing up: Fish fillet, especially the one at Sea World while visiting my grandparents in San Diego.

Favorite thing to eat now: Asian.

What people don't know about you is: I've never eaten at my own restaurant.

Your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: Anytime I let frustration get the best of me. Once, when I was very young and green, I slammed a chocolate sauce bottle on the table so hard that both the top and the sauce hit the ceiling. The prep cook at the time said he saw Jesus. I cleaned it up quietly.

National/international chef you admire: Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in NYC. The woman is as real and true as her food.

You started eating more healthfully and lost a lot of weight. Do you still allow yourself a guilty pleasure?: I am not totally against splurging and eating to your heart's content. I still go on "Research and Development" trips and eat everything . . . okay, I taste everything. But anymore, I choose to eat foods that make me feel physically comfortable -- vegetables and more vegetables.

Describe your cooking style: It's definitely seasonal, rustic, and inspired by whatever I'm interested in.

Has your cooking or your philosophy about cooking evolved since you opened FnB?: Oh, my God, yes. I have slowly made the menu healthier and more vegetable-driven.

You love incorporating exotic ingredients and obscure dishes. Why?: I'm always curious and inspired by different flavors and other cultures. I try to use ethnic- inspired dishes in a genuine fashion, though. I hate fusion confusion.

And you seem to especially love Middle Eastern. What's up with that?: I love the fact that they use vegetables, legumes, and fewer proteins, and they complement with herbs, chiles, and savory sauces.

Name a place you've eaten in the past year that blew your mind: I love Roberta's in Brooklyn. Carlo Mirarchi does a great job mixing herbs, seeds, and fats with vegetables.

You earned the nickname "veggie whisperer." What's the deal with you and vegetables?: I don't know about "earned." Vegetables have always been the ugly ducklings of the American diet. I've obviously taken my eating habits on a healthier path. Making veggies exciting for others makes me happy.

How important are your relationships with local farmers/ranchers/food artisans?: They're vital. Without them, I'm nothing.

The best thing about being a restaurant owner is: Autonomy.

The hardest thing about being a restaurant owner is: Not being there while it's open. That's why I'm always there.

You've had men and women in your kitchen. Any obvious differences? Or are they exactly the same?: It's not the same. I will say that women cook and work harder without ego-driven self-congratulation. Women don't feel the need for the "Yes, Chef" answer back from a fellow cook.

You've worked for Chrysa, Donna Nordin, and Anne Rosenzweig. Why did you choose to work with/for women?: I was 16 and working my first restaurant job with a male chef. When a position became available, he wouldn't move me up, saying if I wanted to progress, I would have to do pastry or prep. I decided I wasn't going to get anywhere with him, so I went to work for Donna at Café Terra Cotta. Since then, I've made a point to work for women chefs who are known to be difficult to work for. I wanted to be the best and to learn how to get where they were. All of them encouraged -- not discouraged -- me to be successful.

Female chefs in this town have a tough edge. Does being a woman in this industry do that to you? Or do you have to be ballsy to make it in the first place?: Is "tough edge" the new word for "bitch"? I'm a businesswoman, and it has nothing to do with my vagina.

Name two culinary mentors and explain what you learned from them: Chrysa [Robertson} and Anne [Rosenzweig]. I was working for Chrysa when she opened Rancho. I saw her build it. She took me to L.A. to buy used plates, not just order them and have them delivered. She was able to get me into other kitchens and do working vacations. I learned how to run a restaurant and use seasonal ingredients and of course, Rancho is where I met Pavle! I would not have come back from NYC to work for anyone else here in AZ. When I came back six years ago, she took me in and helped me get it together to do my own thing again.

And I can't say enough about Anne. She is such a great mentor and friend. She continues to share her business and food knowledge with me. We speak at least twice a week. I just came back from cooking a dinner in her honor a couple of weeks ago. It was wonderful. I visit and do R&D with her at least a couple of times a year. She is always teaching me about finding the perfect balance on where to save money and where to spend it. She has taught me to keep my eye on the bottom line but never at the expense of my food quality or creativity.

You've cooked for lots of famous people in New York, and quite a few celebs have shown up at FnB. Tell us a story about soigné for celebrities: It's always doing something for them as quickly as possible that they would love: making biscuits for Jeffery Bean in 20 minutes, oatmeal cookies for Dan Rather's wife, duck sausage and lentils for Mike Nichols, or gravy for Carol Burnett's fried chicken because that's how her grandma served it.

Pet peeve in the kitchen: Employees being late. With cell phones and texting, there's no excuse.

Last meal on Earth -- what would it be?: I'd cook dinner at the restaurant and sit down and eat it with my friends and family.

What should be written on your headstone: She loved people. She cooked them good food.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles

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Nikki Buchanan