Chef Chat: Eric Gitenstein of Lola Tapas

Categories: Chef Chat

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photo by Claire Lawton
Eric Gitenstein was the kind of kid with food on his brain; after realizing he spent more time thinking about his restaurant jobs than his university classes, he made a culinary escape from traditional study.

After culinary school, Gitenstein tested out a few local kitchens -- from Sassi and Olive & Ivy to the Camelback Inn and Eddie's House -- before landing at Lola Tapas.

Like any good chef, he was driven by his stomach. "I don't claim to be an expert in any style and I don't strive to be," says Gitenstein. "But I love the flavors and style of Spanish food. Before coming to Lola Tapas, I ate my body weight in paella when I went to Spain. So I've definitely been well prepared and I think this place is a really great fit."

Beyond the mustard-colored restaurant, Gitenstein runs his own secret supper club, mftasty, which he explains as his creative outlet in food. Details of the underground events are fairly standard (for the underground culinary scene): a few dozen seats, a handful of courses, a secret menu and a secret location. Mftasty will host its third event on April 18.

Gitenstein stops in to talk green onions, locally owned restaurants, the culinary school ego and more.   

Favorite Ingredient: Right now, I love green onions. They're inexpensive, they taste good and there are so many applications for them. I know a lot of chefs who will go for a really expensive ingredient and it becomes their favorite thing, but I think it's more challenging if I have an ingredient that's not the classiest thing and I get to make something beautiful. Anyone can sear a piece of foie gras and you know it's going to taste good. Phoenix food scene needs: continued support for local places. If we support the local restaurants that are doing great things, it will become a better scene and it will make it desirable for chefs to want to stay here.

Phoenix Food Scene needs less:
restaurants that look really cool, but don't have the food to back it up. There's this huge empire of restaurants right now that have really cool designs, but a ton of the food is really safe... it's like they make it look inviting and cool, but the food is just comfortable enough so that people will always know what to order.

Hardest Lesson Learned in the Kitchen:
When I started out, I thought I was a lot better than I really was. It took me getting put in my place a lot to realize that I was going to have to be patient and learn a lot before I could really succeed. I'm not old enough to say "kids these days" but I'm afraid culinary students these days might also think, "I'm going to get out and be the shit!" It just doesn't work that way.

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