Chef News

Doug Robson Dishes On Why Tacos Are Great and What It's Like to Eat Bugs and Worms

Doug Robson Gallo Blanco Café, The Clarendon Hotel 401 W. Clarendon Avenue, Phoenix 602-274-4774

See also: -- Gallo Blanco's Doug Robson to Open New (and Slightly Different) Mexican Restaurant in March -- 8 Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurants: Best of Phoenix 2012

This is part one of my interview with Doug Robson, chef-owner of Gallo Blanco Café. Come back tomorrow, when Robson dishes about LGO, his favorite local restaurants and the most fun local chef he's ever worked with.

Was it humor, self-deprecation or both that prompted Doug Robson to name his hip, mid-town Mexican restaurant in the Clarendon "gallo blanco," the Mexican slang term for "white guy"? There's more than a little irony in the moniker, that's for certain, given that this modest, bespectacled Anglo turns out some of the most authentic regional Mexican cuisine in the city. Then again, why wouldn't he? Never mind that his mother was French-Vietnamese and his father Scottish-English. Robson was born in Mexico and grew up just outside of Mexico City, where his dad ran the family's paper manufacturing business. As a kid who hit the local taquerias after school and helped his adopted grandmother make everything from tortillas to mole, Robson was steeped in Mexican food traditions from the get-go, admitting he felt a bit of culture shock when the family moved to San Antonio, the epicenter of Tex-Mex, when he was 11.

He got his first food job as a dishwasher and later, prep cook at San Antonio's Macaroni Grill (before it became a national chain), and when he had that existential, which-path-to-take moment in college, he abandoned the psych degree and headed for culinary school. A chef he was working with at the time (at award-winning Polo's at the Fairmount Hotel), recommended the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and Robson listened. He and his new wife (a tenth generation Texan who is said to make a mean brisket) packed their bags and moved to Scottsdale before Robson had even bothered to apply. He finagled his way past a waiting list and upon graduation, took a gig at Windows on the Green with Robert McGrath, whom he followed to the original Roaring Fork on Camelback.

Three years later, he joined Matt Carter, Jared Porter, Jay Bogsinske, Patrick Fegan and Tammie Coe at Michael's at the Citadel, where he stayed for two years before opening La Grande Orange as executive chef. Although he started with three staff members, Robson eventually built a team that would include many of his friends from Michael's. Six years later, he left LGO with the intention of opening his own restaurant. Gallo Blanco debuted in 2009 and has since become a beloved Mexican food fixture, revered for its honesty, simplicity and locally sourced ingredients.

Five words to describe you: Unfiltered, passionately obsessive, stubborn, mischievous.

Five words to describe Gallo Blanco: home away from home, Mexico.

Favorite food smell: Baked breads.

Favorite cookbook and why: CookWise by Shirley Corriher. A mentor of mine introduced me to the book, which helped me look at how I cooked from a scientific standpoint not just by how it looks and tastes.

Name an ingredient you love to cook with and explain why: Rice. It's in almost all cuisines, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Spanish, Japanese & the list goes on. But what makes rice awesome is the unique way it can be prepared. From risotto to sushi rice, it's a tricky little grain. You really need to know what type you are working with.

Most over-rated ingredient: Meat. It's so easy. Anyone can make a great meat dish. It's harder to bring out the right flavors and create umami with grains and produce.

Trend you like: Local food sources, sustainable farming, local chicken, pork and beef.

Weirdest thing you ever ate: Beatles, sautéed in olive oil served in a taco with a very spicy salsa. I won't do it again. Just can't get past the psychological part of it. I've also eaten maguey worms, whose flavor was kind of musky, almost like crustaceans. Because they were panfried, they were crunchy, not mushy inside. Almost like cracklins.

Favorite thing to eat growing up: Tacos.

Favorite thing to eat now: Tacos. They're such a great thing. Like sushi, you keep going until you're satisfied. You don't waste tacos.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge 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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Nikki Buchanan