If you've been reading Chef Salad here at Chow Bella for a while, you've probably gleaned a few tasty nuggets about your favorite chefs: what they like to eat and where, the colleagues they admire, the mentors they've learned from and their views on trends and celebrity. As the interviewer, I've been fascinated by their differences (no two snowflakes and all that) but also their similarities.
Twenty-eight interviews in, I've figured out a few things: Chefs aren't afraid of hard work and long hours, but they play hard, too. They like their environment to be neat and orderly but accept the blood, grease and smelly stuff that comes with their job. They respect authority and expect the same in the people who work for them, but the good ones are often rebels at heart. There's a lot more I could say about the metro Phoenix chefs I've talked to this year, but their own comments tell the story best. Here are a few of the memorable things they said in 2012.
(And check back next week for part two of our Chef Salad Highlights.)
Larry (Lo-Lo) White Jr., owner of Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
One food you can't live without: Fried chicken. My wife made baked chicken at home on Monday. On Tuesday, she asked me what I wanted for dinner and I said "chicken." She said, "We just had that." It doesn't have to be fried. It could be baked, rotisseried or grilled. I just love chicken. Every once in a while, I go through the KFC line with dark glasses and a hat on. I love that original recipe.
What's your favorite piece of chicken?: The breast. I like to get to the back of the breast, suck that seasoning off the bone. People say I pick a chicken bone clean. When I'm through with it, that bone looks like it's been in the desert for a week -- like the lions have eaten it, then the vultures came, then the rats and then the ants. I leave a piece of chicken like the ants have got to it.
Lori Hashimoto, Sushi chef and co-owner of Hana Japanese Eatery
What makes a good sushi chef?: Attention to detail, patience and passion. Plating takes a lot of patience. Presentations are spatial. Everything is focused on the middle of the plate and that's where everything should be mountainous. The ends of the plate should be wide and open. I've been eating American food my whole life, but now I see the plate as a landscape.
You've mentioned humility before: Yeah, you don't ever say, "I got it!" There's always more to learn. You're always in the middle, saying, "I'm really not that good." That's the Japanese way. You stick out a little bit and someone's there to nail you back down.
Chef you'd like to meet and why: Not anyone, really. I just want to eat their food. Isn't that weird? Amy and I were at a famous restaurant in San Francisco and they figured out who we were and asked us if we'd like to go in the kitchen and meet the chef. We just rolled our eyes and said "Sure." But they're not super-stars to me. Some of them are so cool and their hair is spiked. I just hate it.
Do you consider yourself a molecular gastronomist?: No. I consider myself someone who loves interesting, creative, and, most importantly, delicious food. With that comes what people call "molecular gastronomy."
Josh Hebert, Chef-owner of Posh Improvisational Cuisine
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 world is flat and they're paying their bill, I'll totally agree with them. Not that hard.
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.
Mark Tarbell, wine guru and owner of Tarbell's
How and when did you learn so much about wine?: I was in wine school in Paris at age 19. But it all started with a couple of unfortunate experiences with MD 20-20, Boone's Farm, and Ripple. I thought, "There must be better than this!" And there was.
What would you tell an aspiring young chef going into the business?: Don't. Then if that didn't work, I would tell them to work for three places that they view as the best. I would also say that there are benefits to working for a resort or hotel when young and building a career. You need to see and experience a tremendous amount to begin to understand who you are going to be when you stake your ground. It's an experiential trade, not a theoretical one.
Beau MacMillan, executive chef of Elements
What was it like to work under Chuck Wiley?: He was Yoda, and I was his Jedi Knight. I was a rough-edged guy who had potential. Chuck groomed me and refined me. He showed me the door and let me walk through it. He's the consummate professional. He can cook, lead, manage, delegate, and inspire. I've never had a better time in a kitchen with the camaraderie and teamwork we had there.
Do you consider yourself a celebrity chef?: The word "celebrity" isn't something I'm really comfortable with. It's like "success" and "failure." How do you measure that? It's so subjective. Chefs have traditionally been stuck in cramped, uncomfortable quarters, even when they're cooking for kings and queens. This is what I do for a job, so I don't really understand what the word "celebrity" means when it comes to a chef.
Chris Curtiss, executive chef at NoRTH Arcadia Do you watch Food Network?: No, the shows on Food Network suck now. I grew up watching Jacques Pepin and Julia Child where they made mistakes and cut themselves. Now when people watch cooking shows, they get the impression that cooking should be perfect and accidents never happen. That's total bullshit.
Chris Gross, chef-owner of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
Most over-rated ingredient: Truffle oil. It's in fucking everything. Years ago, I swear I smelled it on someone I was dating. They should offer it in those intimacy packages that are in the hip boutique hotels. It's like heroin, hard to kick, even for me.
What the average person doesn't understand about chefs is: We're not artists. If an artist doesn't want to get up and work, he or she doesn't have to. A chef has a staff waiting and customers to be served.
Payton Curry, chef-partner at Brat Haus
Trend you wish would go away: The bastardization of phrases like "all-natural" and "naturally grown." It's all bullshit. It's a marketing tactic used to convince the public that products are not full of hormones, pesticides, and herbicides. What chaps my ass is when these big companies on TV say "farm-fresh carrots." What does that mean?
Bernie Kantak, chef and co-owner of Citizen Public House
The great thing about being a chef is: I get to throw a party every night!
Name a local chef you admire and explain why: Josh Hebert. He's a genuinely good guy and to be honest, he saved me from a corporate life. He's probably not aware of it, but I was about to give up on opening a restaurant and I went into Posh for dinner with Tracy Dempsey. It was actually the first time I met Josh and I'm a little sad I can't remember what exactly he said to me, but truly, I went from being pretty much done with this business to wanting nothing more than to have a place and do it the way I wanted to do it with the people I believed in. So Josh, if you're reading this, thank you. I owe ya!
James Porter, chef-owner of Petite Maison
Do you watch Food Network?: Ab-so-lutely-effin-not. If you really want to know what it's like to work in a kitchen, watch Deadliest Catch. It's unscripted, passionate, and shows true determination through unforeseen difficulties. Working in a kitchen is more often like being at sea during a storm -- not in a studio with makeup artists.
What advice would you give an aspiring young chef?: Run like hell.
What do you understand about being a chef now that you didn't 10 years ago?: Failure isn't such a bad thing. A few battle wounds emotionally and physically may hurt, but they won't kill you.
What's a "foodie"?: It used to be a word that referred to someone who is passionate about food. But it has become an empty term that describes wanna-be experts with no hospitality experience who look down their noses and loudly judge what they themselves cannot do.
Describe Phoenix as a restaurant town: Kind of like an eighth-grader whose voice is starting to change, whose arms and legs are awkward and tend to flail a bit, but has a heart of gold and could grow up to be president someday.