Stephen Jones of Bootleggers: "I'm Just Going to Do the Damn Thing"

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Courtesy of Bootleggers
Chef Stephen Jones
Stephen Jones
Executive Chef
Bootleggers Modern American Smokehouse

When we met with Stephen Jones late last week, it'd been just over a week since he started his new gig as executive chef of Bootleggers Modern American Kitchen. And in just that short amount of time, he'd already written a new menu and formed some solid ideas about the changes he'll be bringing to the restaurant.

Jones, who came to Phoenix by way of Chicago in 2008, made his name in the local food scene when he opened Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails at Kimpton's Hotel Palomar in 2012. He'd been at a handful of other local restaurants prior, but it was his distinctive take on classic American and Southern cuisine at Blue Hound that propelled him to the forefront of the Valley's culinary scene.

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Silvana Salcido Esparza on Barrio Queen: "I'm Proud of What I Did"

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Lauren Saria
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza
Silvana Salcido Esparza
Chef, Owner
Barrio Cafe
www.barriocafe.com

If you haven't been paying close attention, then the past few weeks may have been a bit confusing in regard to what exactly James Beard Award-nominated chef Silvana Salicido Esparza is and isn't up to these days. So first, let's clear up a few things.

As of mid-August, Esparza no longer is part of Barrio Queen in Scottsdale, which also means she's no longer a part of the second Barrio Queen location that will open in Gilbert. And those plans she had for a fast-casual spot on the west side? Those are shot too. Yes, she did help design a burrito concept for the Arizona Mills Mall food court, but it's not under her control now that it's open.


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Matt Zdeb of SumoMaya: "I Don't Want Anyone to Walk Out of Here Unhappy"

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Lauren Saria
Chef Matt Zdeb of SumoMaya in Scottadale
Matt Zdeb
Executive Chef
SumoMaya Mexican Asian Kitchen
www.sumomaya.com

When local restaurant owner German Osio announced his plans to open an ambitious Mexican-Asian restaurant last summer, he immediately made SumoMaya one of 2014's most-anticipated dining spots. Then Osio stoked the fire even more by announcing celebrity-chef Herb Wilson would be heading up the kitchen.

Well, SumoMaya finally opened in June but after just two months Wilson jumped ship to go open another new restaurant in Florida. That left former executive sous chef Matt Zdeb holding the reins to one of Scottsdale's buzz-iest dining spots.

"This is more than I ever could have imagined when I sat down with German," Zdeb says.


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Catching Up with Felicia Ruiz of Lola Tapas: Plant-Based Diets and Getting Back to Her Roots

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Lauren Saria
Felicia Ruiz
Natural Chef

Recently we've been talking about the local dining spots of former days and our trip down memory lane connected us with chef Felicia Ruiz, who many will know from Lola Tapas. Ruiz ran the well-loved restaurant until June 2010 and when it shuttered, many a Phoenician lost a favorite dining spot.

Fortunately, Ruiz isn't one to dwell on the negative side of life. And her fans will be happy to know she's still very much involved in the food community -- though in a different capacity.

"It allowed me to get back to my roots," Ruiz says of the restaurant's closing.


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Aaron Pool of Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soups on the Perfect Enchiladas and Why Sporks Suck

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Lauren Saria
Aaron Pool
Owner, founder
Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup
3313 N. 7th St.
www.gadzooksaz.com

When you hear the word "Gadzooks," you probably don't think of food. Toys, maybe. Or a children's clothing store. But a place for a good meal isn't likely to be the closest association.

"People assume it's going to be shitty," Aaron Pool says of the restaurant's name. "It's not like I planned it like that, but I like to under-promise and over-deliver."

If you've eaten at the quirkily named Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup in Central Phoenix, you may have noticed a tall skinny guy with a messy mop of hair working the line. He blends in with the rest of the restaurant's staff, but to the surprise of many, he's no employee.

That fresh-faced guy in the gray Gadzooks shirt is Aaron Pool, the restaurant's owner and creator. And, yes, he's still a few years shy of 30.


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Chef Patrick Karvis of TapHouse Kitchen: "If I Were to Open My Own Restaurant, This Would Be It"

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Lauren Saria
Patrick Karvis
Executive Chef
TapHouse Kitchen
www.taphousekitchen.com

There's certainly no shortage of beer-focused restaurants opening around town these days. Which chef Patrick Karvis knows is making it difficult for his restaurant to stand out.

"That's the way it works," the chef says with a shrug. "Five years ago it was sushi."

It's a fitting reference since the four-month old TapHouse Kitchen sits in the former home of Blue Wasabi, a sushi restaurant that opened back in 2008. And Karvis knows first-hand how trends come and go, having been living and cooking in the Valley since 1992.


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Pastry Chef Marisa Lown on Eating Well: "It's Not a One Size Fits All for Everyone"

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Evie Carpenter
Marisa Lown
Pastry chef
The Radical Cupcake
theradicalcupcake.blogspot.com

These days you won't find pastry chef Marisa Lown in a restaurant kitchen, but that doesn't mean she's left the Valley pastry scene. Lown is still active both in her kitchen and on social media as The Radical Cupcake, which was once the name of her custom bakeshop that specialized in allergy-friendly and organic baked goods. She stopped that side of the business, but is now offering allergy-friendly consulting services to restaurants and chefs.

According to Lown, it's a growing priority for chefs and restaurateurs.

"From a restaurant perspective, food allergies are the bane of their existence," she says.


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Brian Konefal of Coppa Cafe in Flagstaff: "People Should Travel for Food"

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Lauren Saria
Brian Konefal
Executive Chef/Co-owner
Coppa Cafe
1300 S. Milton Rd, Flagstaff
www.coppacafe.net

Considering that Coppa Cafe has been open for more than three years, it's pretty surprising how little attention the restaurant's received. There have been articles written in local media and even some national mentions, but on the whole, Coppa Cafe's following remains limited to northern Arizona diners.

And that's too bad, because the food here is really, really good.

The fact that the cozy, European-style restaurant is located in a generic Flagstaff strip mall is probably to blame. But chef and co-owner Brian Konefal believes good food -- and yes, his food -- is worth the drive.

"People should travel for food," Konefal says.

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Kelly Fletcher of The Revival on Why He's Playing It Safe

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Lauren Saria
Kelly Fletcher
Kelly Fletcher
Chef
The Revival
www.therevivalaz.com

For years chef Kelly Fletcher wooed diners from the kitchen at Tempe's House of Tricks, where he'd been working for some 10 years. But earlier this spring he left that post, seeking an opportunity to really do his own thing. He teamed up with business partner Chad Withycombe to breathe new life into Tempe's Mucho Gusto restaurant. They shut the place down for less than a month, remodeled, and The Revival was born.

Expectations were high but it's been a rocky start for the Arizona-native chef. Fletcher has already had to stop serving weekend lunch and brunch and admits he's been holding back so far.

"It had to be safe," Fletcher says of his menu.


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Bob Tam of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour: "We Want to Feed Those Who Feed Others"

Categories: Chef and Tell

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Bitter & Twisted
Bob Tam
Chef, partner
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
www.bitterandtwistedaz.com

In the words of Bitter & Twisted Principle Barman and Proprietor Ross Simon, the downtown cocktail lounge is "a bar that happens to have great food." As in, first and foremost, this place is about the drinks.

But just because Bitter & Twisted isn't a "restaurant" per se, doesn't mean they've skimped when it comes to the culinary offerings. On the contrary, chef and partner Bob Tam has created an inspired menu of street food that's just about as forward-thinking as Simon's 24-page cocktail book. You might think that putting the drinks in the forefront would be a negative thing to a chef, but to the contrary Tam's used the situation to his advantage.


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