Ehren Litzenberger of BLD in Chandler on Simplicity, Chocolate-Covered Grasshoppers, and Who We Can Blame For "Foodie" Obnoxiousness

Ehren Litzenberger BLD 1920 W. Germann Road, Chandler 480-779-8646, bldchandler.com

See also: -- Cork Earns Wine Honors From OpenTable -- Chou's Kitchen in Chandler Makes Travel + Leisure's List of Best Chinese Restaurants in the U.S.

This is part one of my interview with Ehren Litzenberger, executive chef at BLD in Chandler. Come back Tuesday when Litzenberger dishes on Mario Batali, Claudio Urciuoli, and where he eats Thai.

You might say Ehren Litzenberger walked into his executive chef position at BLD through the back door. You see, back in 2011, when the four-month-old restaurant was foundering, BLD owners Robert and Danielle Morris (who also own upscale Cork in Chandler) called Litzenberger to act as consultant and fixer. He came, he analyzed and he recommended sweeping changes -- so many, in fact, that the couple finally said, "Oh, hell, why don't you just run the show?" Litzenberger accepted and has been turning out three squares a day (no easy pace) ever since.

Why Litzenberger, who clearly has a goofy streak, as evidenced in the picture above? The Morrises met him years earlier at Lon's at the Hermosa, where the three worked together: Robert as sommelier, Danielle as pastry chef, Ehren as line cook. Clearly, the first two had faith in the third's abilities -- as well they should have. He's been at this cooking thing a while now, working for a slew of the city's celebrity chefs. In fact, he's the classic behind-the-scenes guy who gets the job done without a lot of notoriety or fanfare.

Litzenberger got his start in the restaurant business as a 17-year-old busboy at the Sheraton San Marcos, heading for the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco after graduation, where he worked part time at Kuleto's on Union Square. He returned to Phoenix to intern at Wright's at the Biltmore, but his career took a detour when he got in a serious accident, broke his femur and couldn't stand on his leg (as chefs must) for hours on end. He bounced around for a while, trying his hand at electrical work and accounting before heading back into the kitchen as lead line cook for Mark Tarbell at Barmouche.

Litzenberger's next stop was Lon's, where he worked under Patrick Poblete and later, Fernando Divina, before moving to Gilbert for a short-lived stint at the disastrous Gonzo's. It was there he met and fell in with Terrance Littlejohn (best known for his Native American-inflected Southwest Cuisine at The Wigwam), following him to The Downside Grille as well as working at other venues owned by the same restaurant group.

Litzenberger did some catering gigs with Michael DeMaria before taking a position at Baleen in the former Sunburst Resort. When Kimpton bought the property, re-naming the resort FireSky and the restaurant Taggia, Litzenberger stayed on, working with Claudio Urciuoli and eventually moving up to chef de cuisine there. Three years later, DeMaria called, looking for an executive chef for his new restaurant in Tempe. Litzenberger eagerly accepted, but when the project fell through, he jumped to Gallo Blanco to work for Doug Robson, helping him open Hillside. From there, he moved to Sassi, working under Pete DeRuvo until he got a call from Danielle Morris about that fateful consulting gig for BLD. Since he's been plugging away in Chandler, he's done (and enjoyed) a handful of TV cooking segments, including a Valentine's Day bit on Good Morning Arizona, where he surprised his girlfriend with a marriage proposal. I'm guessing her life with him will never be dull.

Four words to describe you: Open, creative, energetic, straightforward.

Five words to describe BLD: Open, easy, breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Favorite food smell: Thyme. I love the brightness it brings to our dressings and food. You might even catch me wearing it in my chef coat every now and again.

Favorite cookbook and why: Can't really say I have a go-to or favorite. I do have multiple Jose Andres books.

Ingredient you love to cook with and why: Salt. I know this might seem lame, but try something without salt and then add it. What a huge difference! Salt just brings out the full potential of flavors in any ingredient.

Most overrated ingredient: Truffle oil. People go crazy over this stuff.

Most underrated ingredient: Saba. It's a beautiful complement to a wide variety of foods. Saba is left over from the process of making wine. Sugar is added and it's cooked down for multiple hours to create this flavorful sauce.

Trend you like: Clean, simple, not over-complicated. Let the food speak for itself. You can't make something be what it isn't.

Dish/trend or catchphrase you wish would go away and why: Foodie! Just because you go out and eat every night does not mean that you know food. Why does everyone in the Valley think they are a foodie or tell us chefs what we 'should' do instead? "Oh, it would be better, in my opinion, if you did . . . " Thank you, Food Network and Yelp.

Your favorite cuisine and why: I would say Italian. After working with Claudio [Urcioli], he showed me the true side of clean Italian cooking, simple and bright. Thank you . . .

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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