This is part one of my interview with Chris Curtiss, executive chef at NoRTH Arcadia. Come back tomorrow for part two.
Chris Curtiss looks happy. He's making pasta at a wooden table in NoRTH Arcadia's sparkling exhibition kitchen, and the man is clearly in his element. He admits he probably should've known he was destined to be a chef, given his catholic interest in food at an early age, but he tried the traditional route first, earning a degree in psychology at Arizona State University. As a teen, he'd dabbled in farming and butchering through part-time jobs, and after graduation, the Bay Area native headed back to California for a gig at a Wente family winery. While working in the tasting room, Curtiss met Jim Rio (chef-owner of Jimanelli's), who brought him to his restaurant and taught him about fresh pasta and house-made sausage. Rio gave him books to read and his first chef's knife, later hooking him up with acclaimed French chef Denis Soriano at The Grand Café in Washington DC.
Two years (and a world of experience) later, Curtiss headed back to the Bay Area, where he cooked under luminaries George Morrone (the original chef at Aqua) at Fifth Floor and Roger Siegel (who opened The French Laundry with Thomas Keller) at the San Francisco Ritz Carlton.
Siegel took Curtiss with him when he left the Ritz to work at sizzling hot Masa's. Curtiss stayed with Siegel three years before coming to Phoenix to be near family. His mentor Rio introduced him to the owners of Circa 1900 in Heritage Square, where Curtiss ran the kitchen for two years before moving to Noca for its opening in 2008. The day Curtiss left Noca, he received a phone call from Sam Fox, who offered him the executive chef position at North Arcadia.
When did your interest in food begin: I was 14 years old, working for Japanese farmers in our local Farmer's Market in Danville, California. Part of my pay for the day was their produce, which my mom didn't know how to cook. They would give me tips about cooking Asian long beans or Japanese eggplant and I would come home and start experimenting. I loved it.
What's your favorite food smell: Red wine-marinated short ribs being seared before they are braised. That smell brings me back to one of my first cooking jobs in San Francisco and it makes my mouth water!
Name an ingredient you love to cook with: I LOVE seafood and I especially love raw seafood preparations.
When you were at Circa 1900 and at Noca, you became known for great seafood dishes. How did that happen: When I worked for Ron Siegel at Masa's, he brought in great fish. I also met Ingrid (of Ingrid Bengis Seafood) and the people at Peerless Fish -- a powerhouse out of Brooklyn -- through Ron. It was huge point of pride for me, bringing these great suppliers to Phoenix. Describe your experience at Circa 1900: What a crack up it was working there! It was me and one other guy and a dishwasher. We didn't have a commercial kitchen, and the hood on the stove was like you'd have in a home kitchen. The kitchen would fill up with smoke every night. I coughed like a smoker (and I don't smoke) for two years.
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.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with:
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