What were we doing a year ago? We were waiting on news about that second restaurant from Citizen Public House owners Bernie Kantak, Andrew Fritz, and mixologist Richie Moe. And we didn't know it yet, but were headed for a cold snap that would cost local farmers and restaurants thousands of dollars in winter produce.
And those weren't even close to the biggest stories to hit our local and national food scene this year.
Arizona's First Portillo's and Steak N' Shake
2013 was a big year for Midwestern fast food. On February 26 Arizona's first Portillo's opened its doors to hungry customers who waited 45 minutes on opening day for an authentic taste of the Windy City. The 8,721-square-foot restaurant at at 10574 North 90th Street in Scottsdale, was joined quickly enough by a second location at Tempe Marketplace. And it took us all of five seconds to get completely addicted to their Chocolate Cake Shakes.
It wasn't until September that we found out we'd also be welcoming Steak 'n Shake to our dining scene. The diner-style restaurant chain is a Midwest favorite -- nay, institution -- known for serving Original Steakburgers and hand-dipped milkshakes. Sadly, the first Arizona location, which opened in October on Mill Avenue, failed to impress our Midwestern transplant.
We can't look back at this year without having to face the pasty hybrid that took the world by storm this summer. It was late May when we caught wind of Dominque Ansel's creation, which combined a French croissant with the deep-fried breakfast we all know and love. Of course, by early June there were imposters popping up as far away as the Philippines and by mid-month, we'd figured out how to fry them up ourselves. Things started going downhill when the hybrid pastry trend spawned a horrific creation called The Crookie -- but we truly drew the line when this guy wanted to trade sexual favors for a deep-fried doughnut-croissant. By the time we saw these sad imitations at a local Safeway, we knew it was time to move on and never look back.
Paula Deen Racism Scandal
But even the Cronut craze wasn't enough to keep people from noticing what celebrity chef Paula Deen was up to this summer. Namely, admitting to using the N-word in a video-tapped deposition. In May a former employee, Lisa Jackson, sued Deen and her brother for alleged sexual harassment, racism, and sexism. And during a deposition related to the lawsuit Deen admits to using racist language and other, well, racist things. The whole scandal quickly became a total public relations failure when Deen released not one, but two awkward YouTube apologies -- neither of which was enough to prevent her from losing her job at Food Network and many of her retail sponsors.
Lisa G.'s Battle with Lung Cancer
Our food community suffered a serious blow this August when we found out local restaurateur Lisa Giungo had fallen ill, diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Giungo, known to many simply as "Lisa G.," owned and operated her namesake Central Phoenix restaurant, Lisa G.'s Wine Bar and Cafe, until 2009. Tracy Dempsey, one of the Valley's best-known pastry chefs, called on the community to help raise funds for Giungo's treatment. Sadly, after several local fundraising events, "Lisa G." passed away in November.
"It is with heavy heart and tremendous sadness that we bid farewell to our much loved Lisa G.," Dempsey said. "She was one-of-a-kind in every way."
Starbucks Opens Next to Urban Beans; Protest Ensues
Thankfully, tragedy wasn't the only thing that brought the Phoenix food community together this year. At the end of August, Central Phoenix community members joined forces with state Senator Katie Hobbs and Get Your PHX founder and realtor Ken Clark to protest the opening of a Starbucks next door to Central Phoenix coffee shop Urban Beans. Hobbs and Clark called for a flash mob of the Starbucks chain location saying, "When you are a locally owned business and you have a good thing going, some national chains see that and use their power to take a slice out of your business."
The last time we talked to Urban Beans owner Virginia Senior, she said the Starbucks location hadn't much affected business.
Fast-Food Workers Strike Nationwide
This year, dozens of small and large cities nationwide saw workers at fast food restaurants go on strike in protest of their low wages. The series of strikes and walkouts began in New York City, spreading over a period of month to Detroit, Seattle, and Washington. On Thursday August 29, fast food workers in cities all across the country -- including in Phoenix -- planned to strike and stage a protest, saying they wanted to make $15 an hour, or more than double the federal minimum wage. The protests are ongoing and, workers in about 100 cities staged a mass walkout in early December, the largest effort so far in the push for higher wages. We'll be keeping an eye on this story as we head into the New Year.
Chris Bianco Gets Back in the Kitchen
Due to health problems, Phoenix's most famous pizzaiolo had been out of the kitchen since 2010. But in October, Valley legend Chris Bianco made his triumphant return. Thanks to a new medication called Xolair, which helps treat Bianco's allergy-induced asthma that was brought on by inhaling fine particles of flour, the chef is now able to get back doing what he loves. Of course, this year also saw quite a few changes for the Bianco family of restaurants, including a second location of Pizzeria Bianco (at Town and Country Shopping Plaza, formerly Trattoria Bianco) and news of a third location in Tucson, which was slated to open this fall.
Foster Farms Salmonella Outbreak
An ongoing food poisoning outbreak linked to Salmonella in Foster Farms chicken was one of the largest food-safety stories of the year. From May to October, 278 people in 18 states fell ill from salmonella Heidelberg infection, which can be caused by eating undercooked contaminated poultry. As of December the number of people sickened by the outbreak totaled more than 400, with at least 162 hospitalized in relation to the case. The outbreak also coincided with the government shutdown, which caused all routine health inspections to come to a halt and meant the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control (the agency responsible for tracking and monitoring food illnesses) were operating with severe staff shortages. The outbreak raised questions about the safety of our country's food supply, specifically laws that allow contaminated poultry to be sold to consumers. Several European countries have succeed in eradicating the salmonella bacteria through stringent regulations, though critics say a similar program would be too expensive to imitate in the States.
Charlie Trotter's Death
Chefs from around the world mourned the loss of a culinary titan in November when Chicago chef Charlie Trotter was found dead at age 54. The chef, who was widely regarded as one of the country's best chefs was found dead of a stroke at his apartment on November 5. In 1999, the James Beard Foundation honored Trotter with the award for Outstanding Chef and in 2000, his restaurant, Charlie Trotter's, was named one of the best in the country by Wine Spectator. We spoke to local celebu-chef Christopher Gross, who had cooked with Trotter on several occasions, about the loss.
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"He was intense, a little eccentric maybe, but he strove for perfection. He'll be missed," Gross said.
Amy's Baking Company
As much as we wish it weren't so, this year will most likely be remembered as the year of Amy's Baking Company. Our history with Crazy Amy dates all the back to 2010 when we caught wind of her shitshowiness, then taking place on Yelp. And by December 2012 Amy Bouzaglo was poised for reality tv show fame on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. We knew things don't go so well during the show's filming, but nothing could have prepared us for what we say when the episode aired as the show's season finale this May. It was downhill for Bouzaglo and her mobster husband Samy from there: online bullies, gifs, cat memes, a pretty terrible UK interview and more namecalling than you've probably heard since Kindergarten. Of course we were there to document it all (and give some much needed context), right up to the not-so grand re-opening event. If you want to relive it, you can check out our history of Amy's Baking Company.