Ask any chef: Food- and restaurant-related TV may provide drama and entertainment (although even that is questionable), but it sure as hell isn't based in reality. Feet ache, ceilings leak, employees call in sick, the health department shows up, grease traps overflow, food prices skyrocket, stoves catch on fire, customers skip out on reservations, Yelpers yelp and the restaurant critic invariably shows up on the day something catastrophic has just happened. Not that a chef would be caught dead whining.
They're a hardy lot, these lifetime members of the Suck-It-Up Club. And we've gotten to know them a little better -- both as individuals and as professionals -- here at Chow Bella this past year, where they've candidly shared their thoughts about everything we've asked them. Here's Round Two of the Chef Salad highlights of 2012. If you missed part one, read it here.
If you were a food, what would you be?: Cochinita pibil -- slow-roasted, a little fat, and full of flavor!
What really annoys you about "foodies" is: Foodies were fun 10 years ago. They were like hairdressers. They knew everything about anything and they always knew where to go. Unfortunately, in the age of Yelp, foodies are not foodies anymore. Now, they're usually just assholes and posers. Food is such a personal experience. I say, "Eat and let eat."
What advice would you give an aspiring chef?: Culinary school or not? The million-dollar question. I would say, get your ass to work first, figure out of this is for you before you blow your wad and owe the government for that student loan for a long, long time because culinary school is stupid-expensive.
But, if you are a young Mexican, I say do it. Let me help you, work for me, let me teach you. I figure the more Mexicanos start stepping up to the plate to represent our own food, the better. I mean, it's embarrassing for me when non-Mexicans know more about Mexico and her food than a Mexicano who eats and lives it on a daily basis. Orale cabrones, where the fuck are you?
Bryan Dooley, chef-owner of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue
Name a chef/cook or restaurateur you'd love to spend a week with and explain why: I'm not really much of a chef worshiper. I'd rather spend a week on the road with Jack Kerouac, or throwing stars with [natural science writer and anthropologist] Loren Eiseley, or talking about the moon with Neil Armstrong. Those are my real heroes.
Justin Beckett, chef and co-owner of Beckett's Table
What advice would you give an aspiring chef?: Work in the restaurants that are attractive to you, work in the places where you like to eat. Try the profession on before investing in school. Becoming a chef is a process that takes time. If you rush into/through it, you will miss valuable lessons and tricks of the trade. The hours are longer than you can ever imagine so make sure you are ready for it. A chef's job is as much about the business side of it as it is the cooking and creating side; don't ignore either one. If cooking truly is your passion, you will do well.
What do you understand now that you didn't 10 years ago?: It's a marathon, not a sprint. Everyone in the restaurant watches every move you make, so you have to lead by example, not by preaching. Your day/job is never over.
Chuck Wiley, executive chef of Cafe ZuZu and the Hotel Valley Ho
Trend you wish would go away: Deconstruction.
Buzzword you wish would go away: Gastropub. WTF?
If your cooking were a genre of music, what would it be?: Love songs.
What's your guilty pleasure?: Budweiser. It's considered low-brow, and some temples of mixology don't even carry it, but I think an ice-cold Bud is one of the most refreshing things on the planet.
Aaron Chamberlin, chef-owner of St. Francis
You spent six years with LGO Group. What was that like?: I have a lot of emotional attachment to LGO. I still go there and pick up trash while I'm waiting for my coffee. It was a special place to be part of, and I got a lot out of that experience. That was my finishing school. It got me out of the fine dining mentality and made me a business chef.
So Bob Lynn [founder of LGO Group] was another important mentor, right?: Yeah, he can smell talent. He can smell people who will work like a dog. He's a team-builder. People who worked there have gone on to do massive things -- Doug Robson, Craig DeMarco, Jay Bogsinske and Jared Porter. I mean here was this lineup of chefs making granola, fruit and yogurt.
So, are you looking to build an empire?: Well, I don't expect to get rich. I live in a simple house. I don't drive a fancy car. The days of "who has the most toys wins" are gone. To me, who has the least is the winner.
Pete DeRuvo, executive chef of Davanti Enoteca
What do you understand now about being a chef that you didn't 10 years ago?:Keep everyone on the same page, every day, every shift, every moment. Things go sideways when you don't communicate!
Cullen Campbell, chef-owner of Crudo
Most over-rated ingredient: I don't believe there is one, as long as it is prepared well and balanced.
Buzzword you wish would go away: Casual fine dining. We are all casual fine dining. No need to state it.
Keenan Bosworth, chef and co-owner of Pig & Pickle
Describe your experience at Rancho Pinot: When you go to work for Chrysa, that's a good introduction to this town. She's very demanding. She can be across the room and totally catch something going on in the kitchen. She suffers no fools, and she doesn't sweet-talk you. She breaks people. But her goal is to be massively consistent, and it's all about the customer experience.
Describe Phoenix as a food town: Everybody wants to bite and chew everyone else up. You can get away with pedestrian shit here if you're flamboyant and have your hair a certain way.
Josh Riesner, chef and co-owner of Pig & Pickle
What is your bartender-partner Clayton MacGregor's style?: He doesn't do the "light your Tiki drink on fire" bullshit, just straight-up, old-school cocktails. I don't need a guy in a newsboy cap and ostrich-skin boots making my drinks, and I don't need $30 booze in my martini. This neighborhood doesn't give a shit about that.
MJ Coe, master baker and owner of MJ Bread, pizza dough maker for Federal Pizza
I think it's safe to say your favorite thing to work with is bread, but why? Bread is so simple. It's the first thing to arrive at the table and the last thing to be taken away. Once you learn the cause and effect of ingredients you can basically tailor the dough's taste, texture, color, all of it. And to me the manipulation of that is just - I don't want to say it's a God complex, but to have control over something like that versus someone in culinary handling a protein, there are just a lot more variable to making bread.
What are the hours like for a baker who's also a small-business owner?: It's a blatant disregard for sleep. There have been nights where I get a call at 2 a.m. because our mixer isn't working and I have no idea how to do electrical work. Electrical scares the hell out of me but it needs to be fixed. So you look at the puzzle, find a solution, and fix it.
Chrysa Robertson, chef-owner of Rancho Pinot
People think of you as a hard ass. Is that your persona? Or is that really you?: Chef Pete Deruvo (of Davanti Enoteca) used to work for me, and he recently said that I have "broken more spirits than an exorcism." SO true! And my Wonder Woman cook Sacha Levine says I sometimes remind her of Carrie at the prom. Now THAT'S funny! Seriously, I am pure marshmallow inside. I have always been a bit insecure and defensive. I have pretty strong opinions. I expect a lot from my crew. I don't suffer fools. I want things to go perfectly, and when they don't, I sometimes take my frustration out on my employees. I think I'm a lot better than I used to be, but my past behavior is a real regret of mine. As my grandmother used to say, "You get more bees with honey than with vinegar."
Myth or reality: women have to be super-tough to be a chef: I don't think you need to be Wonder Woman. Do the work, know your shit, don't play games, and work and act like you deserve respect. It's a tough biz. Don't expect any special treatment. Stand up for your rights . . . and this coming from me, a big crybaby at times!!
You make a lot of cracks about male chefs. Care to expand on that?: I'm always dishing shit on boy chefs because I find so many of them SO competitive, so interested in showing off or trying to prove something. Yes, that's a gross generalization, but it's my experience. A wise woman I know once said: " Women cook to please; men cook to impress." Discuss.
People sometimes call you Arizona's Alice Waters. How do you feel about the comparison?: Hell, there is no way I would ever compare myself to Alice Waters. It's a great compliment to me, but I don't have a fraction of her single-minded passion, her dedication to her vision & her beliefs. To me, she is a purist. I am definitely not a purist. She is a HUGE inspiration to me, but I'm not even in her league.
What should be written on your head stone?: "Runner! I need a runner!!"
If your cooking were a genre of music, what would it be?: Punk rock. I pretty much do what I want, how I want, and I don't really care what anyone has to say about it.
If you weren't a chef, what would you be?: Maybe a weatherman. They seem to get more latitude when they're wrong.
Name a giant in the American food scene and explain why you admire this person: Wolfgang Puck has somehow transcended the celebrity chef cliche. He was the first celebrity chef, and he sells tomato sauce on QVC. But all of that notwithstanding, he has a ton of restaurants serving great food, you never see him on some silly reality show, and he is still amazingly relevant among real chefs.
If you could have an audience with your detractors, what would you like to say to them?: Fuck them. I wouldn't waste my time.
Last meal on earth -- what would it be?: I'd like a picnic -- blanket in a meadow, blue skies overhead. Live music. Beer on ice. Pate, charcuterie and cheese give way to oysters and caviar. Fried chicken, cole slaw and pickles. Milky white bread, salted butter. And finish it all off with a well-made pot brownie.
In percentages, how much of you is chef and how much restaurateur?: I am 100% chef. Restaurateur is my job; chef is who I am.
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