Bernie Kantak Dishes on Food Trucks and Why He Hopes Comfort Food Is Here to Stay
Citizen Public House
7111 East Fifth Avenue, Scottsdale
This is part one of my interview with Bernie Kantak, chef and co-owner of Citizen Public House. Come back on Tuesday for part two, when Kantak reveals where he'd go if he could jump on an airplane tomorrow and how Chef Josh Hebert of Posh inadvertently changed his life.
Bernie Kantak is about as far from celebrity chefdom as a celebrity chef can get. He doesn't seek the limelight, because he's never comfortable in it. You won't see him swanning around the dining room or schmoozing it up at Citizen Public House -- although he makes little forays from the kitchen from time to time to speak to friends and regulars, who are often one and the same thing.
If it weren't for his Eastern European looks and ever-present cap, he could pass for a movie star cowboy -- long, lanky, and laconic. In another life, he was an art school major with an emphasis in sculpture, graduating with a fine arts degree from SUNY Cortland, so he's got the soulful artist vibe going -- although he would resist that characterization as too pretentious.
It was actually a ceramics professor who suggested he consider the culinary arts, given that Kantak already had spent so much time in restaurants, earning money as a dishwasher, busboy, server, and line cook. A post-pig roast discussion about art's connection to food and wine prompted Kantak to move to Arizona and sign up for the culinary program at SCI.
Upon graduation, he moved to Lake Havasu to open Shugrue's, and in 1997, moved back to Scottsdale to work as sous chef at Cowboy Ciao. Within six months, he was heading up the kitchen, turning out the wildly imaginative dishes for which the restaurant is famous. Kantak stayed put for nearly 12 years, leaving in 2009 to pursue opportunities downtown, which eventually fell through.
In 2011, he and his partners -- mixologist Richie Moe and front-of-the-house man Andrew Fritz -- opened Citizen, which will celebrate its two year-anniversary in January.
Favorite food smell: Fresh mint, definitely. It takes me back to my childhood in my grandparent's backyard.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: A tomato sandwich with Wonder Bread, mayonnaise, and black pepper.