Vincent Guerithault on Who He's Cooked For and Where He Gets His Macarons

Vincent Guerithault Vincent on Camelback, Vincent's Market Bistro 3930 East Camelback Road 602-224-0225, www.vincentsoncamelback.com

See also: -- Taste Maker #53: Vincent Guerithault -- James Beard Award-Winning Celebrity Chef Teams Up with Phoenix's Justin Beckett for Special Dinner (Spoiler Alert: Reality TV)

This is part one of my interview with Vincent Guerithault, chef-owner of Vincent on Camelback and Vincent's Market Bistro. Come back tomorrow when he dishes about Wolfgang Puck and Kevin Binkley.

Disclosure: I dated Vincent in 1985-1986, before and during the time he was opening Vincent on Camelback.

Vincent Guerithault has been called the "godfather" or "granddaddy" of Southwest cuisine for nearly as long as his namesake restaurant has been open. And though it's true that in 1986 he introduced duck tamales and smoked salmon quesadillas to a sleepy restaurant town startled but delighted by the French-Mexican juxtaposition, he's probably never been completely comfortable with the lofty moniker. Despite a wall's worth of awards and accolades -- including a James Beard Best Chef Southwest in 1993 and a Beard nomination for Outstanding Restaurant 2013 (he's a semi-finalist in that category) -- Guerithault is a humble guy who doesn't think much past running his restaurant and providing for his family. He's our first celebrity chef and the last to care about the hullabaloo that comes with the title.

He got into the business the same way many French chefs do, forsaking school to become an apprentice at Raymond Thuilier's L'Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux de Provence when he was 16. "They make you do all the stuff that nobody wants to do," he says, "mopping the floors, washing dishes, and you work your way up." It was here he formed a longstanding friendship with another aspiring chef -- Wolfgang Puck. A year later, Guerithault's employer sent him to Paris to finish his apprenticeship at Maxim's, and after three more years in Paris (he also worked at Fauchon's for a time) and a mandatory year's stint in the Navy, he became the sole chef at a small bistro in Paris, later applying for the sous chef position at Jean Banchet's prestigious Le Francais in Wheeling, Illinois, because he was eager to see the States. He worked with fellow chef Roland Passot (La Folie, San Francisco) (another guy who's done quite well), staying on with Banchet for three and half years until he could no longer stand the Midwest's harsh winters.

His friends were all moving west, and when one of them told him about some guys in the Phoenix area who planned to run a French restaurant and a Mexican restaurant called Oaxaca from the same kitchen, Guerithault jumped at the chance. The concept flopped, even though Terry Goddard had written a nice piece about the place for the Phoenix Business Journal. The Mexican restaurant eventually moved upstairs, leaving Guerithault to do his own thing -- which he called Vincent's French Cuisine -- on the ground floor. Miraculously, Craig Claiborne got wind of Guerithault doing straight-up French food in the middle of nowhere and wrote a favorable review for the New York Times. It was 1981 and suddenly Guerithault was viewed as a young guy with loads of promise.

Local banker Bob Keys, who had plans to open a beautiful new restaurant in what would become 8700 and later Michael's at the Citadel, approached Guerithault about a partnership. The two spent months trying to iron out a deal, and when they couldn't arrive at one that seemed equitable to Guerithault, he walked.

He admits now it was the best thing that could've happened to him, but he was panicked at the time -- until a friend put him on to a cute space on Camelback Road near 40th Street that was zoned for restaurant use. Guerithault held a party for Terry Goddard in his brand new restaurant in December 1985, officially opening for business the following month. Why Southwest cuisine? "Because French food was dying," Guerithault says, "so instead of lobster, I started doing lobster chimichangas." He continues to demonstrate the same nimbleness he showed then, opening his popular farmers market in 1991, Vincent's Market Bistro in 2003, and starting Vincent Van Go (a breakfast and lunch delivery service to businesses) in 2008.

Five words to describe you: Perfectionist, honest, sincere, hardworking, loyal.

Three words to describe Vincent's: Resilient, enduring, unique.

Three words to describe Vincent's Market Bistro: Bargain, comfortable, charming.

Favorite food smell: Something cooking on the grill.

Favorite cookbook and why: I have several hundred cookbooks in my collection and would be hard-pressed to name a favorite.

Ingredient you love to cook with and why: Butter. It makes everything taste better.

Has your customer changed since you opened in the mid-'80s?: People are not "dining" as much as they did in the mid-'80s and they tend to eat lighter. Our answer to that was to open Vincent's Market Bistro. We still have people who come for special occasions or serious diners who are attracted by our extensive wine list, but for a lot of people, Vincent's is a special occasion restaurant for dinner.

You started out as an apprentice and came up through the ranks. How is that process different from a kid going to culinary school?: It gives you a much greater appreciation for the business. There's not a job in my kitchen that I can't do, so I don't feel threatened if someone leaves because I know I have the ability to do the job myself if necessary.

Name five or six famous people you've cooked for: Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Prince Andrew, George Bush Sr., Paul Newman, and Julia Child.

Is there anyone you'd be really nervous to cook for?: No.

Name two local dishes you love to eat: Homemade tamales and macarons from Essence Bakery.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Jacques Qualin of J&G Steakhouse Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Matt Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast Jared Porter of The Parlor Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles

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