This is part two of our interview with Sacha Levine, former sous chef at FnB who now works at Rancho Pinot. She still makes time to help out her mentor Charleen Badman at the old spot and turns out her own line of pickles products, which are sold at Bodega. Monday, we got the whole story about how she landed a gig helping open FnB and got her best recommendation for food-related reading. Today, she dishes on what she's got planned down the line and shares the biggest different between male and female chefs.
This fall will be Levine's third season working at Rancho Pinot with chef Chrysa Robertson, another of the Valley's big-name female culinarians. But it's no accident that she's spent time under two of the city's most well-known and respected women chefs; Levine makes it a point to work with the best of the female culinary world. Last summer for example, Robertson helped get her a stage with Mozza, the restaurant group owned by California's famous baker and chef Nancy Silverton. And this summer, Badman sent her to New York City to stage at Prune under Gabrielle Hamilton, as well as at Anissa under Anita Lo.
Needless to say, this woman's got plenty of experience. But lucky for us, she's not planning on leaving the Valley anytime soon.
"I feel like it would be to my benefit to stay here," she says. "Because I know the market here and I know the food here and I know the food scene. And I feel like there's a lot of room to grow here -- and I hope we do grow. I want to be a part of that and I have been so far."
And though she doesn't sound like she's looking to set off on her own just yet, either, Levine does have an idea of what she'd like to do when she does: a sandwich shop.
"I just think a well-crafted sandwich is an art, it really is," she says. "And you can do so much with a sandwich. And there are so many sandwich shops -- and there are so many shitty sandwich shops."
So it shouldn't come as a surprise to find out that one of her favorite spots to eat is Pane Bianco, where Marco Bianco's artisan breads become the base for a rotating menu of sandwiches. She's a big fan of the sort of honest but elevated food you find there, as well as at FnB and Rancho Pinot. The latter will be celebrating 20 years in business this year, which would be quite a feat even without the recession.
"It's better to be lukewarm for 20 years than hot for five," she says, which isn't to say Rancho Pinot hasn't been consistently serving soulful comfort food through the years.
On the other hand, Levine gets to witness firsthand some pretty innovative stuff. She remembers when Millic told everyone he wanted to only serve Arizona wines at FnB Restaurant. People thought it was a crazy idea, but innovation is one the things he and the restaurant do best.
"And it's hard to keep up with the trends," Levine says. Though she seems to do a pretty good job, judging by the way she talks.
We're not sure when she has the time, but Levine reads Lucky Peach (even though it has a lot of what she and her mentors call "boy food" -- you know, the fancy, stylized stuff), Bon Appetit and Saveur, and highly recommends Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter.
But Levine's a straight-shooting kind of gal. So, trends and hype aside, for her it comes down to the food. She won't call herself a chef just yet, since she's still enjoying the "learning process" of what that means, and in particular, what it will mean to her.
"I just think that food is really amazing," she says. "It's the one thing besides taking a shit that everyone does every day. Everyone eats. And if you can elevate that, and if you can make it something really exciting, I just think that that's the best thing you can do."
Your current obsession: Although they are super-overrated, my garden has been taken over by squash blossoms. I pawn off as many as as I can on Rancho, FnB, and my roommate who works for Bianco, but there are still so many, they are starting to control my life.
What are your thoughts on the Food Network: I am pretty sure they are in cohorts with the devil, trying to take out America with diabetes and the blood-curdling sound of Guy Fieri's voice.
Your favorite drink and where you get it: Although I totally support our growing cocktail scene, it has to be green chartreuse on the rocks at Shady's. It is what it is and the juke is always good.
If you could eat at any restaurant in the world, where would you go?: A picnic on the island of Sardinia, with local ingredients made by grandmas would totally melt my mind.
If you could have dinner with any five people who would you choose: Kathleen Hanna, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Ira Glass, my girlfriend, Sandy, to keep me in check . . . Oh, and Oprah (just because).
The biggest different between male and female chefs: That's hard, because a person's gender shouldn't matter. To me, the women that I have worked under have been a lot more intense than the men. They have the death-ray eyes.
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SHOW ME HOW
Who do you want to stage with next?: It would be fantastic to get into a super-artsy but also down-to-earth place like Husk. But if I can't get in there, I was thinking I could hold a séance and conjure the ghost of Julia Child to show me some old school technique.
Where do you want to see yourself in five years?: Still cooking and loving food and helping the phoenix food scene grow. And if Oprah comes to dinner maybe a Brand New Car!
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