Urban Table's Traci Zitzer and Russell Johnson: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

Urban Table - Caramelpalooza1.jpg
Katie Johnson
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

Traci Zitzer and Russell "RJ" Johnson are one dynamic duo. After forming a friendship early on in middle school and going on to serve 30-plus years in the restaurant industry, the two business partners decided form Urban Table: A Working Chef's Market.

See Also:
Announcing the Caramel Makers for Smeeks & Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza 2013!
Twist Caramel's Donna Croyle and Julie Schobert: Caramelpalooza 2013

Starting their way at farmers markets and ultimately setting up Urban Table Larder inside Scottsdale's JAM Boutique, Zitzer and Johnson pride themselves on knowing both their products and their people.

"When we first started this business we decided to make two things very clear -- we had to laugh, because we're on the second half of our lives," says Zitzer. " [And secondly,] we decided if we were going to make this commitment, we would have to work with people who would want to learn, people who we would want to break bread with."

And true to form, in just a little over a year of starting their business, Zitzer and Johnson have broken bread with much of the growing foodie community in Phoenix -- tasting, sampling, and selling both their own products and the specialty goods of their vendors. Which is why, despite this being their first Caramelpalooza, Zitzer and Johnson are sure to be two of the more familiar faces there.

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Sweets by 5ftLatina's Kathryn James: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

5ft Latina Caramelpalooza.jpg
Katie Johnson
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

Like may people out there, Kathryn James is all about New Year's resolutions. "I have this tradition of wanting to do something new on New Year's Eve," says James as she recounts the one year she attempted to make presumably easy peppermint bark without a thorough knowledge of chocolate or tempering.

See Also:
Announcing the Caramel Makers for Smeeks & Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza 2013!
Twist Caramel's Donna Croyle and Julie Schobert: Caramelpalooza 2013

Unlike most of our fickle resolutions, however, James took her most recent one and turned it into a business. Falling in love with truffles, and more specifically chocolate, James was encouraged by her friends to capitalize on her sweet skills and create Sweets by 5ftLatina.

Having now been in business a little over a year, James' products such as spicy dark chocolate caramel popcorn and spicy chocolate truffles can now be found at LuLu's Boutique and Vintage Green Old Town Treasures in Glendale.

So what can we expect from this first-time Caramelpalooza chef? We're not exactly sure, but we do know one thing: "I try not to make anything that's not chocolate."

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Bourbon Steak's Veronica Arroyo: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

Veronica Arroyo - Caramelpalooza.jpg
Katie Johnson
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

Veronica Arroyo is no stranger to the sugary showdown that is Caramlepalooza (nor is she unfamiliar with having Chow Bella writers follow her around the kitchen). As the executive sous chef and pastry chef for Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Princess, Arroyo has been picking and plating the seasonal dessert menu since the restaurant's opening five years ago.

See Also:
Veronica Arroyo's Santa Monica Strawberries
Announcing the Caramel Makers for Smeeks & Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza 2013!

We met up with Arroyo in her Scottsdale kitchen, where she was assembling one of her seasonal desserts, Santa Monica Strawberries. As she gracefully laid out vanilla bean streusel, fresh berries, and micro parsley with handmade rhubarb ice cream, she opened up about being a woman of few words, her foodie travels, and her newly adopted Siberian husky, Lilo (after one of her favorite movies, Lilo & Stitch).

Though the natural-born pastry chef claims to be harsh in the kitchen, after one afternoon at Bourbon Steak with her, we're convinced she's as sweet as, well, you know.

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Urban Cookies Bakeshop's Brady Breese: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

brady collage urban cookies.jpg
All photos by Lauren Saria
Brady Breese of Urban Cookies Bakeshop
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

Avid fans of the Food Network show Cupcake Wars might recognize this local baker from the 2011 Ms. America-themed episode he won with Salvador Garcia. Back then, however, his bakery went by "Urban Cookies and Ollie Cakes." Today you'll have to look them up under a different name: Urban Cookies Bakeshop.

As the name might imply, the Central Phoenix shop turns out a lot more than just cookies. From seasonally-flavored cupcakes and rich, chocolate brownies to bran muffins and costumed-employees (no really, check their Instagram), they've got it all going on. We're already excited for his caramel creation and caught up to talk cupcakes, Citizen Cake and Charlie -- the name Brady and his wife, Shaun, have chosen for their soon-to-be-born second son.

See also:
- Snickerdoodle Smackdown in CenPho: Churn vs. Urban Cookies
- Slade Grove: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013
- Brady Breese Makes Pumpkin Bread

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Pistol Whipped Pastry's Rachel Miller: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

Rachel Miller - Caramelpalooza.jpg
Katie Johnson
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

For Rachel Miller, there's nothing more delicious than yesteryear. The Pennsylvania-born photojournalist turned pastry chef uses nostalgia as the driving force behind her gourmet sweets. Take, for instance, her gourmet "adult" s'mores, soon to be available through her newly launched business, Pistol Whipped Pastry. Gourmet chocolate and housemade marshmallow sandwiched between thick, buttery, graham cracker (though cracker seems like a severe understatement) -- it's the kind of colossal treat you'd willingly dislocate your jaw to enjoy.

See Also:
Announcing the Caramel Makers for Smeeks & Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza 2013!
Essence Bakery's Eugenia Theodosopoulous: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

And though Miller may be a new entrepreneur and fresh face at Caramelpalooza, she's no stranger to the Southwest's culinary scene. Miller has worked in the kitchens of Bouchon Las Vegas, J&G Steakhouse, The Parlor, and True Food Kitchen in Scottsdale, where she decided that baking isn't really baking if you can't use butter (or sugar or flour . . . ).

Though we can't say for sure what Miller will bring to her first-ever Caramelpalooza, we can certainly place bets on some form of artisanal Americana.

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Slade Grove: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

CQ Slave Grove.jpg
Diana Lustig
Slade Grove makes caramel all day, every day.
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

Last year at Caramelpalooza, Slade Grove took second place for Best in Show. You'd better believe he's going to do all he can this year to make sure he's number one. If his showing at the 2012 Pie Social, where he took the People's Choice ribbon, is any indication, we're in for a tasty competition.

His buttery, sweet caramel is often enhanced by Saigon cinnamon, bananas, mango, alder wood-smoked sea salt, and, most recently, bacon. Since he's a veteran at caramel experimentation and preparation in general, and he's been a fierce competitor in every competition he signs up for, we expect great things from him this year. But what does he expect this year?

See Also:
- Slade Grove Says No to "Foo Foo Fad Joints," Yes to Pie!
- Tracy Dempsey's Originals' Tracy Dempsey: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013
- Essence Bakery's Eugenia Theodosopoulous: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013


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Twist Caramel's Donna Croyle and Julie Schobert: Caramelpalooza 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

Caramelpalooza - Twisted Caramels.jpg
Katie Johnson
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

Just over a year ago, Donna Croyle and Julie Schobert, two moms who became friends through their love of cooking classes and their daughters' friendship, were considering starting a caramel business.

But the question loomed: Would there be enough demand? Were young people even eating caramel these days? And as if it were the product of divine intervention, they discovered the 2012 Caramelpalooza. A few weeks later, Croyle and Schobert (the chief twisting officer and president of tasting, respectively) formed their LLC, Twist Caramels.

Not long after selling their three flavored caramels (pistachio, chocolate, and buttered salt) around Arizona, word quickly spread to Southern California, where they landed an account with a luxury boutique hotel in Santa Barbara that soon will be using their caramels for its nightly turndown service.

Though Croyle and Schobert are relatively new to the caramel-making game, their sweet success has certainly proved they're naturals.

See Also:
Churn's Monica Castillo: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013
Herb Box's LaDawn Driscoll: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013
Announcing the Caramel Makers for Smeeks & Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza 2013!


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Essence Bakery's Eugenia Theodosopoulous: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

CQ Eugenia 1.jpg
Heather Hoch
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

Chances are if you live in Phoenix and you're love macaróns, you're a regular at Eugenia Theodosopoulous' Essence Bakery. After over 25 years of experience, she says the whole process is still "intoxicating." While she's known for carrying over that passion into her French pastries and making a mean breakfast, we remember specifically loving her 2011 Caramelpalooza entry, which was a caramel macarón that won both the blind taste test and the people's choice.

How does she do it? "The ritual begins by using my favorite old French copper pot, balloon whisk, and dedicated water brush," she says. "Once started, the sugar melts and then changes colors and smells until it becomes a dangerous, ridiculously hot bubbly mass that makes permanent scars. I can tell by the size of the bubbles and smell when it's just right because, too light and -- yuk -- the caramel is too sweet! Too dark and you will never ever forget that gone-beyond-repair smell of burnt caramel!" Ain't that the truth.

See Also:
- Announcing the Caramel Makers for Smeeks & Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza 2013!
- 8 Best Neighborhood Breakfast Spots: Best of Phoenix 2012
- The P. Joseph Project's Patrick Boll and Jason Raducha: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013


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Urban Beans and Tertio's Virgina Senior: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

Virginia collage 2013.jpg
Photos by Lauren Saria
Virgina Senior of Urban Beans and Tertio Wine Bar in central Phoenix
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

Things don't stay the same for long at Urban Beans. At least not since Virgina Senior decided to open up Tertio wine bar inside the coffee shop. By day, locals can (and do) stop in for a freshly baked scone but at night the wine begins to flow and the space turns into a low-key hangout for wine lovers of all types.

See also:
- Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza archives
- Announcing the Caramel Makers for Smeeks & Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza 2013!
- Virginia Senior Makes Poached Eggs Over Swiss Chard

We found Senior sitting outside on the soon-to-be-expanded patio. She tells us the impending changes are actually just the first phase in a series of future renovations -- the next phase, she says with a smile, is still top-secret. Senior may have put down her trace paper and pencil in favor of a wine glass and chef's hat, but the career change hasn't stopped her from coming up with a steady stream of design projects to keep her artistic and architectural juices flowing.


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Goodytwo's Stacey Barnes and Donna Hansen: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013

Categories: Caramelpalooza

CQ Stacey Barnes.jpg
Diana Lustig
As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.

In the kitchen, Goodytwo's Stacey Barnes and Donna Hansen make the most adorably sweet mother-daughter team. As Barnes puts it, they're always "2-gether," working from family recipes and her mother's time-honored techniques.

Hansen says her tricks to toffee and caramel perfection are quality ingredients, like Madagascar bourbon vanilla, silicone spoonulas, copper kettles, candy thermometers and "Vitamin L-O-V-E." She does admit that making candy takes a lot of patience, but it definitely makes it easier to have family love and support on your side. While they make work as a team in the kitchen, they don't agree on everything . . .

See Also:
- Announcing the Caramel Makers for Smeeks & Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza 2013!
- Herb Box's LaDawn Driscoll: Caramelpalooza Candymakers 2013
- Donna Gabrilson & Stacey Barnes of GoodyTwos Toffee Company


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