Josh Riesner Pig & Pickle 2922 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale 480-990-1407 pigandpickle.com
See also: -Pig & Pickle Pretty Perfect -Cowboy Ciao's Lester Gonzalez Dishes On Food Truck Fantasies and His Love/Hate Relationship With the Bacon Obsession -M.J. Coe Dishes on the Weirdest Thing He Couldn't Eat and the Death of Cupcake Wars
This is part one of my interview with the Pig & Pickle boys: chef-owners Josh Riesner and Keenan Bosworth. Today is Riesner's day in the sun. Check back tomorrow to see what Bosworth has to say about the trend he hates and the local chef with whom he had the most fun in the kitchen.
With his tats and hippie bandana, Josh Riesner looks like a renegade, but the first words out of his mouth are about his mother -- who went to school, bartended to pay the bills and raised Riesner and his brother on her own. You can hear the love and pride in his voice when he speaks of her, offering a peek behind the persona of a guy who cusses a lot and wears his irony like armor. Days after this interview, it occurs to me that Riesner is shy.
Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, he was a hard-working kid who hung out in restaurants washing dishes and making salads. "I didn't know that I liked the restaurant business then," he says, "it was one of those subconscious things." But he did know that he didn't like school (despite being a brain who graduated with honors) and that he wanted to "get the hell out of town."
After earning a hotel and restaurant management degree from Johnson & Wales, Riesner bounced around the country, working in restaurants in Rhode Island, Boston, West Virginia, Las Vegas and L.A. before winding up in Phoenix, where he went to work for James Porter at Tapino. He had a brief stint with Mel Mecinas at The Four Seasons, but when the HR person seemed overly concerned about his tattoos, he decided then and there that he'd never work in a corporate environment again. Next, he took a job at AZ Wine Co. in Scottsdale, where he met the talent behind adjacent Atlas Bistro: founding chef-owner Carlos Manriquez and his partner Todd Sawyer. Riesner began working for them and over time, he and chef-cohort Brandon Crouser abandoned the Southwestern and Asian accents on the menu for a more classical (but no less playful) style.
Riesner says Pig & Pickle has been his brainchild for years now, and he's happy to have found a restaurant space in an "honest neighborhood" like South Scottsdale, which is his own.
Five words to describe you: That guy is a cartoon!
Five words to describe Pig & Pickle: Honest neighborhood restaurant and bar.
Favorite food smell: Mirepoix as it is caramelizing or freshly baked bread out of our wood oven.
Favorite cookbook and why: It's not really a cookbook, per se, but I love to read Larousse Gastronomique and books from the late 1800's. It makes my soul feel good.
Name an ingredient you love to cook with and explain why: Anything humble or overlooked is always fun. Most people grow up eating things they hate in adulthood. I like to be the guy that changes people's perceptions.
Most over-rated ingredient: Arrogance.
Most under-rated ingredient: Salt.
Trend you like: Friendly, affordable neighborhood joints with great cocktail lists and delicious food.
Dish/trend or catch phrase you wish would go away and why: None. They do it on their own. Don't follow the trends, kids.
Your favorite cuisine and why: Anything made with care and especially anything I didn't have to make myself!
Weirdest thing you ever ate: Pickled pig uterus.
Your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I'm a goofball so I don't embarrass easily, but opening night at Pig & Pickle not being perfect kinda made me feel dumb.
What really turns you off when you're dining at a restaurant? Pushy service, pricy mediocre product, dirty tables and watching messy cooks.
Name one of your favorite places to dine in Phoenix and briefly explain why: I really like FnB for their simplicity.
What is your bartender-partner Clayton MacGregor's style?: He doesn't do the "light your Tiki drink on fire" bullshit, just straight-up, old-school cocktails. I don't need a guy in a newsboy cap and ostrich-skin boots making my drinks, and I don't need $30 booze in my martini. This neighborhood doesn't give a shit about that.
Name a national/international chef you greatly admire and explain why: Marcus Samuelsson . . . dude comes at it from all kinds of angles.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: Anything my mom made. She was and still is a great cook.
What's your guilty pleasure?: Skittles.
What people don't really know/understand about you is: I'm really like Sour Skittles: hard and sour on the outside, but once you get inside, that all changes.
Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: Joachim Splichal helped me realize that I could do this as a living -- a lifestyle and a craft instead of just a job.
What was it like working in Vegas?: It wears you down. The regimen there was, like, walk six miles to get eggs, go through the security checkpoint. It's so soul-less.
In which kitchen have you had the most fun and why?: I've had fun in them all and still do to this day. I love what I do and especially that I now do it for Pig & Pickle every day.
Pet peeve in the kitchen: Guys that wipe their hands on themselves, overlooking trash on the floor and disrespect.
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Last meal on earth -- what would it be?: A wood-grilled cheeseburger, Rochefort 10 and purple Skittles.
What should be written on your head stone?: He had fun doing it!
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: 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