Christopher Gross Compares Truffle Oil to Heroin and Dishes on the Foie Gras Ban

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See also: Christopher Gross Makes Pig Feet You'd Walk a Mile For See also: Chris Curtiss Dishes on His First Phoenix Gig and Why Food Network Sucks

Christopher Gross Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Biltmore Fashion Park 2502 E. Camelback Road, Suite #102, Phoenix 602-522-2344 www.christophersaz.com

This is part one of my interview with Christopher Gross. Come back tomorrow to see what he says about Oliver Stone and food bloggers in part two.

Christopher Gross has earned enough awards and good press to keep two or three chefs happy. He was named one of "10 Best New Chefs" by Food & Wine in 1989, won the James Beard Award (Best Chef Southwest) in 1995 and became the first Arizona chef to earn a Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence in 1997. He helped found the Arizona chapter of the AIWF (which he chaired) and has also chaired the American Liver Foundation's "Flavor of Phoenix" as well as Share our Strength's "Taste of the Nation." He has sat on Aspen Food & Wine panels with Julia and Jacques and cooked alongside luminaries such as Wolfgang Puck, Paul Bocuse, Jean Louis Palladin, Eric Ripert, Charlie Trotter, and Nancy Silverton -- to name a few. He's a chef's chef -- the guy who works hard, plays harder and loves nothing more than breaking bread and talking shop (yes, there's drinking involved) with his friends in the business.

But he came to the culinary arts through the back door. When Gross was 13, he wanted a moto-cross bike and started working at Baskin Robbins to earn money. That job led to stint at CenPho's now-defunct John's Green Gables -- where he ascended the food chain from busboy to cook, later landing a gig at the pricy French restaurant at the Adams Hotel .

His exposure to and interest in traditional French cooking led him to LA, where he worked for three years before deciding he wanted to live and work in Europe. He honed his skills in London, Paris and Normandy before returning to the States to take a job at the prestigious L'Orangerie in Los Angeles. Two years later, he returned to Phoenix to take the chef de cuisine position at La Champagne at the Registry Resort. In 1985, he ran his own show at Le Relais, an elegant French restaurant (and joint venture) in the hinterlands of Pinnacle Peak, where he stayed for five years before moving to the heart of Phoenix to open Christopher's and Christopher's Bistro in 1990. In 1998, he moved his operation across the street to Biltmore Fashion Park, where Christopher's Fermier Brasserie & Paola's Wine Bar were born. In 2007, Gross moved to the west end of the mall, dubbing his contemporary new space Christopher's and Crush Lounge.

Name an ingredient you love to cook with: Foie gras, of course. When I was 19, I only saw it in a can. When I moved to France at 23, I couldn't believe how good it tasted fresh. Hot or cold, using its fat to make brioche or sauteing a piece of fish with it. It's better for you than butter.

You must not be too happy about the foie gras ban in California then: I just got back from Newport Beach, and of course, I wore my "I love foie gras" T-shirt over there. I think the law will be repealed. In the meantime, we'll have lots of it at good prices here in Arizona. 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.

Most under-rated ingredient: Salt.

What's your favorite food smell: Wild strawberries. I wish they were easier to find and shipped better. They're fantastic with fromage blanc or just by themselves.

What's your favorite cookbook: Now, the one from Eleven Madison [Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook]. You'll want to eat everything in it, and the recipes are mostly all technique and not deconstructed. You won't need a rotary vacuum evaporator, an ultrasonic homogenizer or a cabinet full of chemicals.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh 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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