60: Denise Clayton
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.
Photo courtesy of Denise Clayton
Today: a woman who can get you cookin'.
Tastemaker 60: Denise Clayton
Denise Clayton moved to Phoenix in 1980 from California and worked as a preschool administrator before becoming a full-time nanny in 2000. Four years ago, she chose to follow her passion for food into a new career as a personal chef and caterer. For the past two years, she has lived in the Roosevelt Row arts district with her husband, Jay, and she says they are constantly inspired and amazed at the creative buzz that permeates the neighborhood. Clayton teaches a wide range of cooking classes, from canning to tamale-making out of her living/working space downtown. You can get more information on her Facebook page.
I arrived in Phoenix with... my parents and a bad attitude. I was 13 at the time and my parents moved me here from the Bay Area, and I was already full of all the angst and anger of any good teen. There was only one terminal at Sky Harbor at that time and you deplaned right onto the tarmac. I remember the heat hitting my face like a blast furnace, and I was pretty sure they had moved me to Hell.
If I was sitting down to dinner for six, my five dream dining companions would be... I'm going to cheat on this one, because, really, you asked, and how often do you get to imagine such a scenario? So, at the dinner table, I am going to invite the five women who have most inspired and informed my cooking life.
First and foremost is my amazing mom. She was a hardcore "foodie" before there was any such thing. She owned a bread mill when we were kids, and would grind her own flour for every loaf of bread we ever ate. She canned, she gardened, she made elaborate dinners every night, including "squash appreciation week," and other culinary stunts that I only now appreciate. She did all of this while working full time as a banking professional. She is my hero in every sense of the word.
Next has to be Frida Kahlo. She lived her life with such passion and color. I have a million questions I would ask her if I could.
Alice Waters has to make the list. Good, clean, fair. That about says it all.
Julia Child almost goes without saying. As a little girl, I would watch Julia every Saturday morning on PBS. I would memorize lines she said, and did a pretty good impression of her. I would entertain my aunt and uncle on road trips by doing Julia impressions. I guess I've always been a food geek.
Lastly, would be Ina Garten. I think she has had a fascinating life and she cooks a lot like me -- basic, simple, good food.
And, since someone has to cook this dream meal, in the kitchen I want Rick Bayless (seems down to earth and honest), Mark Tarbell (adorable local hero), Hubert Keller (brilliant), Kenny Shopsin (to keep it real and a little dirty), John Besh (sexiest hands ever), and Eric Ripert (come on! That accent?! Swoon!)