Arizona PBS has bigger than usual news: Plate & Pour is kicking off its second season tonight, January 30, at 7 p.m. The Rocky Mountain Emmy award-winning show is hosted by Chef Mark Tarbell, also of Tarbell's and The Tavern, who takes viewers to favorite Phoenix-area restaurants, markets, tap rooms and bars, and food-related businesses.
Plate & Pour first premiered on January 10, 2019. In season one, Tarbell cooked and questioned at spots like Cotton & Copper, Little Miss BBQ, Bri, and Tratto, and spotlighted bartenders to beekeepers.
Season two should be more of the same — in a good way.
A teaser for the 2020 episodes cuts in footage of Valley chefs like Talavera’s Samantha Sanz, Barrio Café’s Silvana Salcido Esparza, the 2019 James Beard award-winning chef Charleen Badman, and a quick high-five with Chris Bianco. Viewers are promised visits to Welcome Diner, Gallo Blanco, The Churchill, and Hidden Track Bottle Shop — and that’s just in the first episode.
“We’re in a really beautiful time,” Tarbell says, referring to the exploding restaurant scene happening in the Phoenix area.
Tarbell says the second season has much smoother continuity between the segments — which he credits to driven production team members like segment producer Margery Punnett, assistant production manager Ebonye Delaney, executive producer Melissa Thompson, and director of content Jody Gottlieb, just to name a few.
And two more: “We have to be thankful to ASU and Arizona PBS for doing it and believing in it,” Tarbell says.
It’s not hard finding restaurants to feature on the show. The small group of producers and others involved in programming do research, and Tarbell will throw in a few ideas. But now, the crew is able to better receive feedback from the audience, which Tarbell says they weren’t able to fully develop in the first season.
“The purpose is to find something that has a great story,” he says. “We’re using food and restaurants and spirits and beer and wine as our foil, if you will, but it really is about the people and culture of Arizona.”
Even Tarbell, who’s been in the Valley since 1986, is learning as he goes.
"What’s interesting is I know a lot of chefs ... but one of the really great things about this show for me is I actually get to know them," he says. "I might have known them for 20 years, but I actually get to have a conversation, because in our worlds we’re just crossing paths all the time."
And his favorite episode coming in season two?
“It’s sort of like picking your favorite child,” he says. “They’re all different and I don’t know if I have a favorite.” However, he says interviewees like Charleen Badman stick out, referring to episode four when Badman leads the team through a Phoenix farmers market. “For me, that was a great one. There are many, but she’s special.”
Despite the more polished look, the show remains fluid — which is perhaps the main difference between Plate & Pour and the former Check, Please! Arizona. But the objective of the former remains the same.
“One of the things I’d hope to do in my career, and now that I’d say I’m in the autumn of my career — I hope it’s early autumn — is to have a chance to give back and celebrate and elevate the perception of what’s happening with the people and culture and food in Arizona,” he says. “To me, this is a way to represent and give back to a community that has been so good to me.”
Tarbell says he’s a passionate fan of what’s happening here, whether it be represented through spirits distilleries, beer makers, wine makers, or restaurants.
“It’s so textured and diverse,” he says, “and the general population doesn't know.”
Tarbell says he’s been lucky enough to travel and participate in kitchens nationwide as a chef, but says he'll still get the, “Why do you live in Arizona?” look. Or flat-out comment.
“That kind of always annoyed me, and I don’t think it’s fair or true,” he says. “I don’t think we’re represented that well.”
However, Tarbell says that recognition is coming. Especially after Badman won the 2019 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. He says before, Arizona and the Phoenix area were “being overlooked for 12 years by the James Beard Foundation, which is egregious.”
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“Charleen getting that … people are going to pay attention,” he says. “They’re going to come for her, but they’re going to eat in other places. And she is so generous, that she’s going to share [with] those other places, too.”
And just one last question, chef. Are you really as nice in real life as you are hosting the show?
"I have zero acting skills, so I am who I am. And I’m still working on me. It's a bit of a lifelong project," he says, full chuckle. "But I don't know if I could be in this business for 25 years and not like people — and I genuinely do."
For more information, see the Plate & Pour website.