Vincent Guerithault on Who He's Cooked For and Where He Gets His Macarons
Buchanan Vincent Guerithault
Vincent on Camelback, Vincent's Market Bistro
3930 East Camelback Road
Disclosure: I dated Vincent in 1985-1986, before and during the time he was opening Vincent on Camelback.
Vincent Guerithault has been called the "godfather" or "granddaddy" of Southwest cuisine for nearly as long as his namesake restaurant has been open. And though it's true that in 1986 he introduced duck tamales and smoked salmon quesadillas to a sleepy restaurant town startled but delighted by the French-Mexican juxtaposition, he's probably never been completely comfortable with the lofty moniker. Despite a wall's worth of awards and accolades -- including a James Beard Best Chef Southwest in 1993 and a Beard nomination for Outstanding Restaurant 2013 (he's a semi-finalist in that category) -- Guerithault is a humble guy who doesn't think much past running his restaurant and providing for his family. He's our first celebrity chef and the last to care about the hullabaloo that comes with the title.
He got into the business the same way many French chefs do, forsaking school to become an apprentice at Raymond Thuilier's L'Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux de Provence when he was 16. "They make you do all the stuff that nobody wants to do," he says, "mopping the floors, washing dishes, and you work your way up." It was here he formed a longstanding friendship with another aspiring chef -- Wolfgang Puck. A year later, Guerithault's employer sent him to Paris to finish his apprenticeship at Maxim's, and after three more years in Paris (he also worked at Fauchon's for a time) and a mandatory year's stint in the Navy, he became the sole chef at a small bistro in Paris, later applying for the sous chef position at Jean Banchet's prestigious Le Francais in Wheeling, Illinois, because he was eager to see the States. He worked with fellow chef Roland Passot (La Folie, San Francisco) (another guy who's done quite well), staying on with Banchet for three and half years until he could no longer stand the Midwest's harsh winters.
His friends were all moving west, and when one of them told him about some guys in the Phoenix area who planned to run a French restaurant and a Mexican restaurant called Oaxaca from the same kitchen, Guerithault jumped at the chance. The concept flopped, even though Terry Goddard had written a nice piece about the place for the Phoenix Business Journal. The Mexican restaurant eventually moved upstairs, leaving Guerithault to do his own thing -- which he called Vincent's French Cuisine -- on the ground floor. Miraculously, Craig Claiborne got wind of Guerithault doing straight-up French food in the middle of nowhere and wrote a favorable review for the New York Times. It was 1981 and suddenly Guerithault was viewed as a young guy with loads of promise.