Michael Rusconi Dishes On Dairy Queen and Fresh White Truffles
Nikki Buchanan Rusconi in his brand new restaurant
Rusconi's American Kitchen
10637 N. Tatum Boulevard, #101 B, Phoenix
Michael Rusconi describes himself as a latch-key kid, watching The Galloping Gourmet on TV at four- and five-years-old, making scrambled eggs and pancakes at five and six. He was also artistically inclined, taking four years of art and four years of photography at his Chicago-area high school, while also working at Bob Chinn's Crab House -- one of the country's highest grossing restaurants then and now.
During his two-year stint there, Rusconi moved from busboy to dishwasher to prep cook to fry-boy to guy on the griddle. Chinn also sent him off to the airport to pick up fresh seafood -- 1,000 pounds at a time, bought directly from fishermen -- which, Rusconi says, spoiled him for top-notch ingredients forevermore.
He left Chinn's to attend the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, taking an externship at Vincent on Camelback after graduation (1987). He stayed two years, graduating from pantry to lunch lead cook. "He was particularly hard on me because he liked me," Rusconi says of Vincent Guerithault with some pride.
When The Phoenician opened in 1988, Rusconi picked up part-time work there, starting at The Terrace but moving to full-time work at Mary Elaine's within 2 months. He stayed on eight years, at one point working with Brad Thompson (who was on the line), Jimmy Boyce (who was sous chef) and Alex Stratta (who was chef de cuisine). Not bad company to keep!
After that, Rusconi jumped around a bit, working as executive chef at short-lived Brio before trying his hand at catering (he cooked for Rush, Metallica and Ringo) and overseeing the kitchen at a country club. When he got "sick of cooking chicken," he made his way back to fine dining, spending five years at the Royal Palms, first under Derek Morgan, later taking Morgan's place as executive chef.