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."