Chef News

Ehren Litzenberger of BLD in Chandler on Mario Batali and Why It's Hard to Be a Three-Squares Chef

This is part two of my interview with Ehren Litzenberger, executive chef at BLD in Chandler. If you missed part one, where Litzenberger dished about simplicity, chocolate-covered grasshoppers and his beef with "foodies," read it here.

See also: -- 11 Great Cooking Supply Stores in Metro Phoenix -- Chris Bianco On One of the Most Under-Rated Chefs in America and What's Great About Italian Cooking in Italy

Favorite thing to eat growing up: Pizza, Round Table, dining in.

Favorite thing to eat now: Thai food. Thanks, David (Latitude Eight Thai Grill).

Best food memory: A friend of mine, James Saio (last chef of Taggia) recently relocated to Santa Barbara, re-launching a restaurant for Kimpton Hotels. I went to visit and he made the most succulent beef ribs with soy-chile caramel and spicy cabbage. My girlfriend at the time said, "This is the only time you can cheat on me" (with food of course).

If your cooking were a genre of music, what would it be?: Very difficult to put just into one genre. I can be dubstep most of the time, but sometimes, I'm smooth jazz with a story to be told. So if you could put all that together, that would be me. Let me know when you find it.

Your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: First day on the job at Kuleto's in San Francisco, my sauté pan caught on fire, and as I tried to put it out, I nervously knocked it onto the floor. Now I had a bigger fire! Oops.

What really turns you off when you're dining at a restaurant?: The fact that so many people do not know the proper use of salt. I have had dishes and said, "Really, did you taste this before you sent it out?" because it has no seasoning. Other times, dishes can be so over-seasoned that I have to regretfully send them back.

Name one of your favorite places to dine in Phoenix: Cibo. I love that the food is amazing, they have a beautiful patio, and Guido is just the best!

Local chef you admire and why: Guido Saccone of Cibo and Claudio Urciuoli of Noca. Both are great guys, very simple, and I love both Cibo and Noca. Every time I go, it's a whole new experience for me.

National/international chef you greatly admire and why: Mario Batali. Super-clean food, simple and approachable.

What's your guilty pleasure?: Ice cream. Blue Bell pecan pralines. When I am down and out, I could eat the whole gallon.

What's the hardest part about cooking three meals a day?: The hours. The fact that I have to cook eggs 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. while feeding Chandler seven days a week. We offer this city 21 times a week to dine with us. It's extremely difficult.

BLD is a neighborhood restaurant. How do you take your Chandler neighborhood into account when planning the menu?: I have gotten to know Chandler better than ever. Chandler loves simple and easy-to-understand food with a "wow" factor. I have developed a very well-rounded menu that is appealing to most, from vegan/vegetarian to healthy/protein to the "I want gravy on everything."

Is it harder or easier to be creative, given your three-squares-a-day format?: It tends to be more difficult, as I have to come up with three times as many specials and change my ways of creating to be approachable here in Chandler. Chandler does not see BLD as "nice" food; they view us as awesome food. More and more think of us as a diner, so getting them here for dinner is tough sometimes. We can only do so much with eggs, but we nailed it. Asking this neighborhood to come see us three times a day just doesn't work. We have guests that love breakfast and lunch and have never tried dinner. Goes the same way for our dinner guests.

What would you put on the menu if you thought people would eat it?: Whole fish. Most people don't like the fact that the head is still on. But what I can do with a whole fish would surprise Chandler.

You grew up in California. Does California still seem ahead of Arizona, trend-wise?: Yes, California will always be ahead. First, the state is larger than Arizona. Second, there is more culture and diversity. Third, the food scene is not so spread out as it is here in the Valley. If I want something I crave here, I have to drive 45 minutes to go get it. Sometimes it's not worth it.

What does Phoenix get right?: Cost of living is what Phoenix gets right.

Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: I have two. Terrance Littlejohn, who taught me the back-of-the-house operations inside and out, from cost control to menu and labor analysis to work flow and building speed on any line. He came from a consulting background, as did my father. So I have a great niche on seeing something and making it better. My second culinary mentor is Claudio Urciuoli. He taught me everything there is to know about Italian cuisine, and I still don't know enough. He taught me to use the ingredients to speak for themselves with very little manipulation. Thank you both!

What do you know about being a chef now that you didn't five years ago?: Giving of my time, taking on more responsibility, and being more open to suggestions.

What do you think of chefs as celebrities?: As long as they don't let it get to their head, then I think it's great. But for many that I've seen or spoken to, they can be very boastful and rude.

Last meal on Earth -- what would it be?: A big fat steak on my backyard grill with my Brittney, family, and friends.

What should be written on your headstone?: He gave of himself to others freely and without hesitation.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Jacques Qualin of J&G Steakhouse Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Matt Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast Jared Porter of The Parlor Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco 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 Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco and Trattoria Bianco

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Nikki Buchanan