A friend recently reminded me that I once had written this of Bernie Kantak: "He's like God. I've never seen him, but I know he exists." Until yesterday, I could have said the same thing about Kelly Fletcher, a funny, self-possessed guy so woven into the fabric of our local food culture that it's a wonder I'd never laid eyes on him before. He's worked at Tricks for 10 years now (give or take, he's terrible with dates), and in that time, he's put his quirky stamp on the place, creating wildly eclectic menus that reflect his wide-ranging interest in cuisines with bold flavor profiles. Mexican food is Fletcher's first love, Korean a more recent inamorata, and ingredients culled from both countries show up frequently on his labyrinthine menu.
Fletcher, who says he "grew up extremely poor" in Mesa, worked in kitchens by age 14, giving part of his paycheck to his mother to help her pay the monthly bills. He credits her for his early interest in food, explaining that she was a terrific cook with family roots in Louisiana. After high school, he attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute, taking his first legit job at The Buttes, where he worked as prep cook and line cook, staying on for two years before looking for another gig. Why did he leave? "Because I hate corporate America and can't work in a corporate environment," he says, adding, "I'm an HR nightmare." His "big move" (and clearly the one he considers his first great on-the-job learning experience) was to Sixth Avenue Bistro in Old Town, where he worked under Francois Simorte, doing straight-up French food and honing his skills as a saucier. Fletcher stuck around for nearly three years but finally "hit a wall" after an extensive trip through Mexico. "I had a more eclectic outlook," he explains, "and I wanted to bring flavors together."