This is part one of our interview with Sacha Levine of both Rancho Pinot and FnB Restaurant. When she's not serving as wingwoman for her mentors Chrysa Robertson and Charleen Badman, she's pickling all sorts of seasonal veggies and things for her line of products called Green Thumb. Today, Levine, a tatted-up feminist and self-identified crybaby, tells us how she ended up at FnB and explains why she's not into the social media thing. Don't forget to come back tomorrow to get the scoop on her future plans and her hilarious thoughts on the Food Network.
You might not know her name -- or face, for that matter -- but you probably will soon. Because Sacha Levine is easily one of the Valley's biggest up-and-coming chefs, though to say up-and-coming seems unfair since she's been honing her skills in top-notch professional kitchens for more than a decade. These days you'll find the ever-busy Levine working part time at FnB Restaurant and full-time at Rancho Pinot. She also has her own line of pickled products called Green Thumb, which she sells at Bodega, the market adjacent to FnB.
So how does she have time to do it all?
"I have, like, an inability to relax without the influence of alcohol," Levine says.
And a hell of a lot of passion helps, too.
"I feel like if I weren't physically cooking, I'd feel . . . void."
Growing up in Bullhead City, Levine says she was a "super-scholastic" kid. And though she didn't always know she wanted to cook, she says she always appreciated good food.
"We were poor," she says. "But we always had butter. My mom didn't buy margarine. She didn't settle."
When she was about 15 or 16 years old, she began to compete in high school culinary competitions, eventually winning scholarships that took her to Phoenix to attend the Arizona Culinary Institute. After graduating from the program, she found herself at Atlas Bistro, where she stayed for two years. During that time, she rose from intern to chef, and at 18 years old was crafting her own menus and putting on wine dinners. She learned a lot about wine during that time, she says, from sommelier Dave Johnson, who was working there as well.
In the end, she felt she wasn't growing enough as a chef, though, so she moved on to work for Valley restaurateur Aaron May. She helped opened the now-defunct Sol y Sombra, gaining experience under the "behind the scenes chef" Walter Sterling. Next she found herself in the mix with the ill-fated DC Ranch restaurant Autostrada. Though the concept was to serve authentic Italian city food, Levine says, they ended up serving mostly buccatini and meatballs.
From there she went on to work under chef Claudio Uricoli at Prado at the Montelucia Resort. Though she says she hated the gig, it seems plenty of good came out if it since that's where she met Pavle Milic, co-owner of FnB, who was working as general manager there.
"Pavle and I would talk, and I told him, 'You know, I really want to work for a female chef,'" Levine says. "Eventually one day, you know, he was like, 'I'm doing this thing and it's my best friend and she's a female chef. Do you want to come and talk to her?'"
And that's the short story of how Levine found herself under the mentorship of one of the city's most badass female chefs.
"I don't know. I feel like everything happened so fast," Levine says of the transition, "It was crazy. When FnB opened, it was me and Charlene and Pavle and Emily, and that was it. The first week we didn't even have a dishwasher."
One song to describe your personality: When I am feeling really empowered its gotta be "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill.
One book you think everyone should read and why: As far as cooking memoirs are concerned, it has to be Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. Her story is so real and lacking pretension. It's insightful, indulgent, and hard to put down.
What's your favorite childhood food-related memory: My dad was a stellar cook and would always bring cold chicken legs on road trips. To this day, when I eat cold roasted dark meat chicken it takes me back to that place. I suppose that and the ultimate fat-kid [meal], spaghetti sandwiches!
One thing most people don't know about you: I'm a pretty big crybaby, in the literal sense. My tears aren't limited to sad things; mostly slapstick comedy, NPR, and trumpet players.
Three reasons why you don't like social media: It would be way easier for me to tell you three things I do like! For starters, it's not social. In a day-to-day, personal interaction kind of way, it only makes people more lonely and isolated. I don't understand why people would rather experience life through the filter on the interweb than just live it for real.
The most underrated ingredient: Although the obvious answer is salt or acid, the most underrated ingredient has to be time management.
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One ingredient you wish you could grow/get in Phoenix: Shell beans, dammit. A lot of the indie farmers have tried but to no avail.
One food trend you're not into: Dots, squiggles, foams, over- manipulated, poorly executed dishes that don't make sense. It may look really cool, but it tastes like a train wreck.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay