Cory Oppold Executive Chef Juan Zamora Sous Chef Atlas Bistro 2515 N. Scottsdale Road www.atlasbistrobyob.com
Since opening in 2002, Atlas Bistro has established itself as a must-go destination for adventurous diners. Thanks to the ever-changing menus of contemporary cuisine, food enthusiasts know they can count on a seasonally influenced fare paired with excellent bottles of wine from the adjacent AZ Wine Company store.
On top of that the small eatery has become a sort of training ground for up-and-coming culinary talent. Past Altas Bistro executive chefs included well-known names such as Cullen Campbell, Keenan Bosworth, and Joshua Riesner. Most recently, Chris McKinley helmed the kitchen until he left last year to open the short-lived but well received The Local in downtown Phoenix.
In September Atlas Bistro owner Todd Sawyer installed a new team and they've wasted no time putting their names and the restaurant back on the map.
Executive chef Cory Oppold comes to the restaurant after stints at some of the Valley very best restaurants. He worked for a time in the kitchen at Binkley's Restaurant in Cave Creek and was most recently the executive chef at Tarbell's restaurant in Phoenix.
His roots, however, are much more humble. The chef grew up on an Illinois dairy farm in a city that boasted a population of 325 people. It wasn't until he came to Arizona to study architecture that Oppold first encountered fine dining. Nineteen-year-old Oppold went to dinner at Wright's at the Biltmore and the experience changed the course of his life forever.
"That was the first time I'd ever seen [stuff] like that," Oppold says of the meal.
That first exposure to fine dining inspired Oppold to enroll in culinary school, and he's never looked back. He spent some time working at Different Pointe of View under then-executive chef Ivan Flowers, whom Oppold considers his culinary mentor. Oppold now teaches at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, where he met Atlas Bistro sous chef Juan Zamora.
Zamora, a relative newcomer to the culinary arts, enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu after leaving a corporate career he says just wasn't fulfilling. He did an externship at Café Bink, but was looking for his next move when he got a call from his old teacher.
"I almost bit the bullet and got on the Sam Fox train," Zamora says.
Oppold, who was then at Tarbell's, brought his former student into the fold and the two both moved to Atlas when the jobs opened up.
As has always been the case, Atlas' current style follows that of its chefs, which in Oppold's case means seasonal and New American, in the broadest sense.
"We have no scope, but seasonality is key." Oppold says. "We definitely want to make each dish unique."
Both chefs collaborate on every menu, with Oppold usually handling the first and second courses and Zamora dealing with entrees. Both chefs say the broad vision is to offer a fine dining experience that doesn't alienate diners. By using high-end techniques and simple ingredients, the chefs say they aim to show off the versatility of single ingredients. That means building complexity through introducing several ingredients, rather than through layering flavors.
Mostly the chefs say they want to always keep things fresh. They'll order ingredients at the start of each week, and if or when they run out, they simply change out the dish.
"We have food ADD," Oppold says. "We don't want to get bored."
In one sentence, describe your style of cooking:
Cory: Complexity is derived through multiple simplistic components -- each one done with techniques to balance sweet, sour, salty and bitter, while ensuring that all ingredients are handled with equal care and respect.
Juan: My style of cooking I believe would be considered modern, seasonal with a touch of elegant familiarity.
Your favorite culinary technique right now:
Cory: Preserving, whether it's through pickling or curing.
Juan: My favorite culinary technique right now is infusing flavors and pickling.
The most overrated kitchen tool is...
Cory: A lid for a pot or pan...I never use one. I prefer a parchment cartouche, which allows evaporation for concentration of flavor.
Juan: A can opener. Although necessary at times for the amazing San Marzano tomatoes or tomato paste, I don't believe a can opener should be a vital tool in a kitchen. If it is then one should question the lack of cooking taking place.
The most underrated kitchen tool is...
Cory: A dry side towel. When we don't have one...we panic.
Juan: A pizza pan or season tray. I use these aluminum disks to season, warm food in the oven, toast various nuts and spices, throw a C fold on and spoon my proteins or glazed vegetables for cleaner plating...Juan: I believe and if someone should care to indulge I use them to throw around as a Frisbee...jk...well, kind of.
Five things everyone should have in their pantry:
Cory: Salt, eggs, sugar, vinegars, and butter.
Juan: I believe everyone should have Kosher salt, sugar, vinegars of various sorts, various oils, and spices galore.
The one food-related book everyone should read is...
Cory: The Flavor Bible. It is the most dog-eared book I own and is used through out my menu development.
Juan: Absolutely must have my Flavor Bible. Not only does it give you reference points of flavors, but while reading those points it jumps your senses and sparks your imagination for your next dish.
If you cook with any living chef, who would you choose?
Cory: Thomas Keller. No explanation needed.
Juan: I grew up watching Jacque Pepin and always dreamt of making his perfect souffles and my ears tingled as he whisked in the olive oil into a beautiful vinaigrette. I would definitely love to cook side by side Chef Pepin one day.
The ingredient I'm totally over is...
Cory: Every ingredient has its purpose. But if I had to pick one, it would be sodium alginate when mixed with different forms of calcium to produce spheres or encapsulations.....that was cool long, long, long ago.
Juan: Truffle oil! I don't care for the essence of such of beautiful product encapsulated in an oil. Also, it's horribly abused and it murders good food.
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I think the next big food trend will be...
Cory: It is so hard to tell what the next food trend will be, because the world of gastronomy changes everyday. I feel that plating style and technique will continue to be organic while staying true to the ingredients with less mimicking of textures or form. I believe that the use of hydrocolloids will always continue, however I am thankful to see that the use of hydrocolloids to produce bubbles and spheres has died down. I believe that the hydrocolloids should only be used to improve a dish and not to be used to just make a dish look different or bizarre.