Cullen Campbell Chef/owner Crudo crudoaz.com
This is part one of our interview with Chef Cullen Campbell of Crudo in Phoenix. Campbell, whose résumé includes stints at Gregory's World Bistro and Atlas Bistro, opened his first restaurant, Camus, in 2005 and opened Crudo in 2010. Though he says he originally wanted to open a sushi restaurant, Campbell decided to go with Crudo's Italian-style sashimi concept because it would be something more original. Today, the chef tells us about what it was like cooking at the James Beard House in New York City and gives us the scoop on some of his favorite places to grab a glass of wine. Don't forget to come back Tuesday, when he tells us the story of Crudo's Crispy Pig Ears.
The last time we chatted with Campbell, it had been just six months since he and co-owner Micah Olsen opened Crudo at the Gaslight Square shopping center in Central Phoenix. The restaurant, which formerly was housed in a boutique hair salon in Scottsdale, will have been at its new location for two years this April.
Things have been busy for the chef, who happily confesses: "It's always so much nicer to work for yourself."
For starters, being self-employed allowed him to live out one of his biggest dreams earlier this year when he went to cook at the James Beard House in New York City. The invitation to cook there came after a rigorous application process that included sharing the restaurant's press coverage, planned menu, and wine pairings.
"I'd been wanting to do this for 16 years," Campbell says. "And I want to do it again."
After hearing everything that went into the event, we're sort of surprised he does.
Campbell says he had to prep some of the food in Phoenix and then ship it overnight to New York. And because he had access to only the kitchen at the James Beard House at 8 a.m. on the day of the dinner, he also borrowed a friend's kitchen (at the W Hotel in the city) to prep some more. Then it was up bright and early on the day of the event to carefully haul all the food to the venue -- in cabs nonetheless -- for a full day of prepping, cooking, and serving.
The most recent things you read and/or watched: Just read Classico e Moderno by Michael White. I am about to start The New California Wine.
Your ideal Christmas/holiday meal: You can't go wrong with a classic like red wine and rib-eye steak.
Your five favorite ingredients to cook with and why: Any protein, salt, pepper, good olive oil, and vinegar. Put all these simple ingredients together, cook it properly, and it's instantly the best thing you've ever eaten.
What's on your culinary wish list right now?: Recently we had a pig roast and polenta board night to celebrate the release of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau. I loved serving the polenta family-style on boards and then setting out different accouterments so diners could add their own flavors to the polenta. So wish list includes custom-made polenta boards, and to start a new monthly family-style polenta boards dinner.
Your favorite drink and where you like to get it: I love wine. So I'm always searching the Valley for great wine lists filled fun, affordable varietals. I love the wide selection that Postino Arcadia offers on its wine racks, and recently we went to Clever Koi and had some amazing finds by the glass. My favorite wine list overall is at Frasca in Boulder, Colorado, by master sommelier Bobby Stuckey.
One food-related trend you wish would end: I wish people would not bash on truffle oil. It's an amazing product, and anyone who says they don't like it likely isn't using correctly.
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What was the most memorable meal you've had in the past year?: We went to San Fran over the summer and had a great time at State Bird Provision. Even though it was literally standing room only, it was an amazing meal.
The most interesting thing you've seen on a menu lately?: I had an amazing dish at T. Cook's with Chef McCabe: his Rouget with rabbit Bolognese, cuttlefish, and squid Ink. He is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay