Chef Chat: Charles Wiley of Hotel Valley Ho

Though he's never been east of New Jersey or west of Alaska, Chef Charles "Chuck" Wiley traveled a long way to get where he is today. 

As a child, Wiley dreamed of working on cars. He was hired at a local auto body shop in New Jersey at the age of 12 and worked his way up to doing brake and clutch jobs by the time he turned 17. Lucky for us, he had an epiphany that would lead him down a tastier path.  

"It was one of those defining moments. I was working on a car in a snowstorm and a big chunk of snow fell down my back," Wiley tells New Times. "That made me flinch and I busted my knuckles on some muffler that I was trying to get off. I looked at my hands which were all black and I thought, 'I gotta get out of here'."

Wiley packed up and headed for California, where he worked his way up from dishwasher to cook at local restaurants. He continued up the culinary ladder in Alaska and Tahoe, relocated to Arizona for a job at The Boulders Resort and eventually landed his current gig as Executive Chef at Scottsdale's Hotel Valley Ho.        

First cooking experience: Turkey was literally my first memory in cooking. I got to stand on a little block and chop the parsley. I don't know if I'd ever little my little kid stand on a block with a sharp knife. I was probably six or seven. Those were the old days, everyone else was probably sitting around smoking cigarettes.

This green bean salad with goat cheese is Chef Wiley's Christmas gift to Cafe Zuzu diners.
This green bean salad with goat cheese is Chef Wiley's Christmas gift to Cafe Zuzu diners.
Courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho

Food you can't live without: If I were to close my eyes and say 'ok, you're going to only eat one thing before you die,' I'd say give me as much beautiful, pristine hamachi as you can get. It's a unique flavor. I really love uni too, but I can eat more hamachi.  

Valley restaurants need to lighten up on the: Balsamic vinegar. I'm a huge fan of balsamic vinegar, but people seem to use it to cure any woe. If there's anything wrong, put some balsamic vinegar in it. Yeah... NO. It's a very special ingredient and it should be respected.

Is the whole locavore/organic/farm-to-table movement a fad? It's here to stay. People care about what they're eating more and more. I tried to get a message across like this 20 years ago and no one was listening. You look at the success of a restaurant like True Food and I want to stand up on top of a building and scream because I'm so happy that people finally care.

Why didn't anyone listen to you? I've thought about this for a long time. It's like, why didn't you wear seatbelts in 1969? Well, we didn't have them. But couldn't you figure out it was smart to strap yourself into the car?? Maybe it was before the Internet where people are learning more and more about how food is handled. Maybe society just needed to evolve.

Check back tomorrow to find out what naughty foods Chef Wiley eats at home and on the run, and get a recipe from the veggie master on Thursday.

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