Chef Josh Hebert Dishes on Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain and the Cheat Ingredient

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Josh Hebert Posh Improvisational Cuisine 7167 E. Rancho Vista Drive, Scottsdale 480-663-7676 www.poshscottsdale.com

How long has Josh Hebert been obsessed with food? Let's put it this way: one of his first words was "breakfast." It's an elaborate family story his mother loves to tell, he says, adding that he actually started rattling around in the kitchen at the ripe old age of 12.

While most boys were still playing GI Joe, Hebert was impersonating Southwestern Cuisine guru Dean Fearing, making Southwestern dishes from cookbooks.

Hebert was a junior at Brophy Prep when he landed a job at a corporate Italian restaurant and six months later, begged his way into the kitchen at Tarbell's, where he was a line cook his senior year.

He stayed at Tarbell's for five years, eventually moving up to sous chef, all the while learning everything he could about running a business properly from Mark Tarbell.

In the late 90s, he moved to San Francisco to work under chef and co-owner Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café, then left to take his first position as chef de cuisine at Café Kati, a high-end Asian Fusion in Japantown.

When the restaurant signed a deal to create a modified version of Café Kati in the Miyako Hotel in Tokyo, Hebert was sent to Japan to set things up. He was 26 at the time and stayed there a year, soaking up Japanese food traditions and loving every minute of it.

Hebert planned to stay in Japan another five years, but his sister was in a horrific car accident that brought him home. And where did he wind up? Back at Tarbell's, this time as executive chef.

From there, he moved to North in Kierland Commons and in 2005 opened Dual in Gilbert, where he nourished the seedling of an idea that would later become Posh, the daring improvisational restaurant he opened on New Year's Eve 2008 -- in the worst economy imaginable. Three and a half years later, Hebert lives to tell the tale. Posh earns rave reviews from critics and customers alike.

It's your day off. Describe what and where you might eat: There's a very strong likelihood I'll be at Four Peaks on a Sunday afternoon with a big pile of nachos and a couple of Hop Knots. Then it might be like Crudo for dinner . . . get my fancy on.

Which is better, culinary school or coming up through the ranks: Oh, up through the ranks. I think that for what culinary schools charge and the average lifetime salary for people in this business, it's criminal. Your money would be better spent going to New York, paying rent for two or three years and working for good people for free 'til you get good enough that they would start paying you. Go see Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, Batali. You do that for a while and you can write your own ticket.

Name a chef you have a crush on: I wouldn't say crush, but if Eric Ripert walked into my restaurant, I would be geeked out like a motherfucker. Le Bernardin is amazing. The guy was a Michelin 3-star chef for 18 years before the world really even picked up on him. Everyhing about Le Bernardin is amazing -- the food, the service, the restaurant, everything.

Best food memory: This is a toughie, but the one that I go back to for its uniqueness is an event in Japan called Shioshigari, which marks the beginning of clam season. You go to the beach and pick clams out of the water. I went with a friend whose family owned a sushi bar and another guy who had a Kobe beef restaurant. We had a whole bunch of people and we rocked everything - clams to sushi to Kobe beef. We'd pick clams on the beach, take a drink of sake, it was an all-day thing. We collected shells, ate like pigs, drank like fish and then went to the hot springs bath.

What's your guilty pleasure: An obscene amount of uni and oysters.

If food were music, what style/genre would Posh be playing: Honestly, no genre, we'd be Pandora or Spotify, the radio station where you pick what you like because we do everything.

Name a trend or restaurant practice you hate: Saying no to people. You should only say no to a guest if what they want is physically impossible, illegal or highly unethical.

But aren't some guests just jerks: But that's what we sign up for when we work in this business. We take care of people. If somebody wants to sit in my restaurant and tell me the world is flat and they're paying their bill, I'll totally agree with them. Not that hard.

What does the Phoenix restaurant scene lack: Public transportation so people can drink more.

What do we get right: It's the best market in the world for wood-fired pizza. We have Chris Bianco to thank for that. He set the bar and now the 20th best pizza place is still making pretty good pizza. Really, we do it better than anybody. We're a wood-fired pizza town.

Most over-rated ingredient: Bacon because it's just too easy. It's like cheating.

Most under-rated ingredient: Bonito flakes. They're like fish bacon, but nobody uses them that way. We crush them up, pulverize them with salt and finish sashimi and raw fish dishes with them.

Biggest mistake you ever made in the kitchen: Holding on to a bad employee for too long. You're the leader of the team. You've got to act.

What would you tell an aspiring young chef going into the business: Put down the video games and pick up a fucking cookbook when you're done with work.

Who would you rather watch -- Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain or Guy Fieri: Tony. I've had a fucking drink with the guy in San Francisco. I don't know. He's more like us.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: 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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