Yesterday we hear from Erasmus "Razz" Kamnitzer of Razz's Restaurant & Bar. Today, the conversation continues.
Erasmus "Razz" Kamnitzer is self-proclaimed "old school" when it comes to cooking.
"Everything came naturally to me; I grew up in the business," Razz says of his time in culinary school. "Things that you don't normally see, they were common things to me. I was fortunate enough to travel a lot, to taste and see everything."
Razz cooks up what he calls "contemporary classical international cuisine" at Razz's Restaurant & Bar in Paradise Valley, bringing the best parts of his epic (and we don't use this term lightly) travels home.
"There are no secrets in food," Razz says. "Everything that is out there food-wise has been done already. I tell everybody, 'Don't look at me as a food prophet.' All I do is make it more modern, more up-to-date, give it a twist here or there. I don't try to disfigure something that has been so beautiful for so many years."
Luckily for us, Razz only brings back the tastier treats from his sojourns in South America, Europe, Asia and Indonesia - leaving behind the crocodile penises and other less appetizing fare.
Today, Razz paints a picture of the most breath-taking view, the way the Valley food scene could look if only we had a little ethnicity, the reason his family is stuck with him during the summers, and the most gut-wrenching soup he's ever eaten.
Most memorable trip? I grew up in Venezuela. And when my wife was pregnant with her second, we took a trip to South America: Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela. An old friend of the family flew us down into the jungles btw Venezuela and Brazil, and we landed at an Indian village around the Paraguay River. And an Indian guy took us on a trek through the jungle, he didn't speak English or Spanish or Portuguese, so we just followed him. My dad, his wife, my baby that I was carrying in a backpack, my mother-in-law, the pilot. Then everybody started giving up, they didn't want to do anything or carry anything any more. People started dropping off and staying behind in the jungle. And at the end, it was only my wife, seven months pregnant, and her mother and myself. And we had already dropped everything; we couldn't even take photos because we didn't have anything in our possession. But we finally made it to our destination and that will always be the most memorable thing in our lives: We were taken into this canyon in this jungle - we had to pull ourselves with ropes up creeks, it was miserable - but when we got to this destination, it was magical. No words to describe it. We were in the middle of the bottom of something that appeared to be like a crater. Above us, there was water rushing into that place, and the only thing you could see through it was the streaks of light that were filtering through the canopy of the jungle above that. We couldn't talk, because sound didn't carry. We were completely overtaken by the entire experience.
Biggest pet peeve about the culinary world? For me, because I'm from the old school, I'm a traditionalist. I still believe in the value of what people did in the past of the profession. What I hate the most is how the identity of what food used to be has disappeared. They confuse creativity with... I'd rather not say. These people who do things that shouldn't be done. It's become such a big deal worldwide that they can get away with it. A lot of people try to overdo too much with the food. We don't overdo it; we just enhance it. Bring it to fruition; bring it to a point where it can really be experienced.
Things the Valley food scene needs more of? A feel of ethnicity. Big cities - New York, Chicago, Los Angeles - you go there and you have neighborhoods where you experience ethnicity from all over the world. You don't find that here. There's one restaurant here and one restaurant there, and whatever they serve is atrocious. It's been growing, in the past five or six years you see a lot more, but we'll never be there. But I love this town.
What's your secret to a long restaurant lifespan? Perseverance. You gotta be stronger than hate.
Do the summers off help? We take the summers off because... I have two families. I have a family that has already been raised and they are grownups. And the only thing they regret about growing up is not spending enough time with me. And my second family, unfortunately for them, they are going to spend a lot of time with me.
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Most unusual thing you've ever eaten? In Thailand, we went to a restaurant in a tiger and crocodile park where they breed tigers and crocodiles, kind of like a zoo. [The oriental menu] has a name in English but the description is in Thai or Chinese. We made our way through the menu, tasting a lot of different things: salt and pepper crocodile ribs and tails, and legs. And there was on thing called dragon soup. And nobody could tell me what it was, but I decided what the hell, I'll just try it. When it came out to the table, everyone else refused to try it, so I was the one who ate it. Number one: it looked bad. Number two: it was terrible. And then when I found out what it was it was even worse: Crocodile penis. That's the worst thing I've ever eaten and the biggest surprise about eating anything I've ever had.
This is part two of our Chef Chat with Razz. Check out part one and check back for a recipe from Razz tomorrow.