95: Eric Schaefer
From now 'til we publish the 2012 edition of Best of Phoenix, New Times and Chow Bella present 100 Tastemakers -- Valley residents who make the cut in our culinary scene. Some you'll know; for others, it'll be a first introduction (but likely not the last). While you're here, check out our 100 Creatives on Jackalope Ranch.
Today, a guy with impeccable taste -- and, sometimes, a rather crass mouth.
You might remember Tastemaker Eric Schaefer from his blog ericeatsout.com -- his prediction that whale milk will be big in 2012 comes to mind. Schaefer's fallen silent of late (unless you're lucky enough to be his Facebook friend), but he's still moving and shaking among the local food scene, and we wonder what he'll come up with next. We just hope it doesn't involve whale milk.
I arrived in Phoenix with.... high blood pressure. Although I grew up in Scottsdale, my career took me to Southern California and, ultimately, the Bay Area. Although I never had a bad meal in San Francisco, my technology-boom lifestyle meant that I was either going to die young from a heart attack or lose my mind altogether. Ten years ago, I moved back to Scottsdale, and I have opened my eyes to a community full of culinary promise and potential. When my family initially migrated to Phoenix from the Midwest in the early 1980s, the food scene was dominated by Oscar Taylor's, Lunt Avenue Marble Club, Café Casino, and L'Orangerie. Potato skins were avant-garde. We've come a long way, but I'm still a sucker for a good potato skin.
If I was sitting down to dinner for six, my five dream companions would be....
Nora, my wife. And I'm not just saying that to score badly needed good karma. Raised just outside New York City, she has great perspective when it comes to food, and just about everything else. She always picks up on aspects of a restaurant's food and service that I fail to see. More importantly, she's smart, beautiful, a great conversationalist, and one hell of a great mom to our two kids. Anyone who has met her knows that I married up -- way up.
Mahatma Gandhi. Yeah, that Gandhi. To make things interesting, he was a vegetarian and led an epic hunger strike. Militant vegetarianism drives me crazy, but somehow I think that Gandhi could convince me. Right now, I'm all about slowing down my life, and his quote "there is more to life than increasing its speed" has a lot of meaning to me, but it's easier said than done. The world would be a much better place with more people like him in it.
Anthony Bourdain. Don't we all secretly want to be like him? Irreverent, street-smart yet sophisticated, and equally at home with food from Joel Robouchon or a food cart on the streets of Saigon. Bourdain's No Reservations 100th episode, filmed in Paris, is the best hour of television I've ever seen. He is a modern-day James Dean or Steve McQueen and, for me, he's the epitome of cool. Yeah, I've got a man-crush. His Les Halles Cookbook is rarely far from reach.
The dishwasher at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Any great organization practices excellence from top to bottom. Many of the world's finest restaurants don't allow their service staff to dine in their own restaurant, nor would they necessarily be comfortable doing so. Splurge on a meal at Restaurant Guy Savoy and then try to tell me that the guy washing the dishes isn't as focused on doing a great job as the cooks working the line . . . and does it for a pittance. The best chef in the world isn't going to go very far if the restaurant has dirty dishes. I'd like the guy washing my dishes to know that his work is part of the total equation, and I appreciate his sacrifice. Plus, the guys washing the dishes are probably a lot more fun than stuffy famous people.
OJ Simpson, because don't you think he'd fess up in the presence of Gandhi? But I'm not paying for his meal. At the very least, Bourdain would kick his ass.