Chef News

Luis Millan of Canteen Modern Tequila Bar, Part Two

Yesterday, we heard from Chef Luis Millan. Today, the conversation continues.

Chef Luis Millan of Canteen Modern Tequila Bar fuses together his Mexican heritage, French cooking techniques, Spanish food adoration and Arizona kitchen experience to create really interesting dishes with international flair.

When Millan dropped out of school in Arizona to pursue cooking full-time, he went to the one place all aspiring chefs have eyes for: Paris, where he spent a year and a half in culinary school and working in restaurants before leaving to find a job in Spain.

"It's really about putting all your interest and love into what you do," Millan says of culinary school. "I already knew how to cook. They can't teach you how to have a palette."

When career options didn't pan out in Spain, Millan came back to Arizona, where he worked as Matt Carter's sous chef at The Mission for four years before accepting his position at Canteen.

Millan tells us about the best Greek street food (and the places to find it closer to home), the chefs whose restaurants he'd love to eat at and cook in, and the one thing he's dying to cook at Canteen.

Favorite cooking style? I love Spanish food. Nice and hearty. Not formal food. I like French food and French cooking techniques. And obviously Mexican food is my strong point, being Mexican born and raised.

Best part of living abroad? Culture change. It's more of a liberal way of life. The food definitely, and the food culture is so big over there. People actually pay respect and attention to who's making your food, unlike here, where it's more about the party scene. I respect that a lot about France. They treat their cooks really well and respect the craft.

What food is the most memorable from all your travels? I'd have to say Mediterranean street food. I fell in love with shawarma, gyros, falafel, all that. That's got to be my favorite street food. And any Greek food around here, I'm a fan of.

What's the best Greek food you've found here? The Greek gyros over at Indian School and 40th: Z's Greek. I love that place. Also Saba's Mediterranean Cuisine up north.

Is there anything that's currently out of your repertoire that you'd like to learn how to make? I would like to remember how to make baguettes. The real ones, not the ones we find here. You know what, I take it back. I've never made a pizza in my life. I've tried it at home, and I can't say I love it. So I'd like to learn to make pizza dough. Baguettes and pizza dough.

What is your favorite chile to cook with? A couple years ago I found this Peruvian pepper called the Ají pepper. You can use it in combination with sweet, savory, and all types of cooking.

Where would you love to travel for food? Actually I love the logo for Ad Hoc, and it's a pretty cool chef: Thomas Keller. I'd probably want to go there. It looks like really down to earth food but really good. And it doesn't seem impossible.


Any chef you'd like to cook for? Ferran Adria from Spain (at El Bulli). Why? I would just try to pick his brain as long as I had the opportunity to cook for him. Learn from the master, I guess.

What's your strategy when the kitchen is crazy? Just step back for a minute, and, if everybody else is freaking out, take control. I work really well under pressure, so I love it when everything is chaos. Like a ship that's sinking, you just have to calm everybody down and keep their heads up: Focus, focus, focus. Get out of the storm.

What are you most looking forward to cooking at Canteen? I'd love to start roasting whole pigs again. Where did you do it before? I did it a couple of times at a friend's house in Spain and working at The Mission. And probably at home in Mexico too, in the pit. What's your favorite part to eat? Pork cheeks. It's a little odd, but it's the best part.

What's next? Leaning more kitchen techniques, why not? Learning more food. Never stop learning, that's when the world gets boring.

This is our second installment of Chef Chat with Millan. Check out yesterday's post to find out more about Millan's Mexican roots including his perfect taco, his mom's mean stews and his dad's clam digs. And check back tomorrow for his pork shank tacos.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Hannah E Williams