Clans of the Kitchen

Gwen Ashley WaltersDecember 1, 2018
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Culinary talent is like any other skill – it’s shared, molded and guided. Which is why that Syrah you’re sipping is packed with the creative DNA of multiple winemakers, not just the one who put it in the bottle. In this one-of-a-kind pictorial, we’ve traced the genealogy of Arizona’s top chefs, mixologists, brewers and winemakers, reuniting them with the mentors – and the mentors’ mentors – who shaped them. Six “family trees” of culinary inspiration. Six clans of the kitchen.

The House of Noca
During the fabled six-year run of Noca, Eliot Wexler’s contemporary American restaurant in East Phoenix, several notable chefs passed through the kitchen, including Matt Taylor (Mora) and Claudio Urciuoli (Pa’La). But it was founding chef Chris Curtiss who presided over the menu when Noca scored its James Beard Best New Restaurant nomination in 2009. Currently the executive chef for creative development at Fox Restaurant Concepts, Curtiss brought a young talent named Logan Stephenson – who worked under him at Circa 1900 in Heritage Square – to help open Noca.

“Chris opened my eyes to high-flying ingredients, things I’d not seen before,” says Stephenson, now executive chef at Sedona’s Kimpton Amara Resort and Spa and its flagship restaurant, Salt-Rock. “He introduced me to high cuisine and taught me sound techniques, like fish butchery and refined sauce making.”

Before decamping to open FRC’s North Fattoria Italiana, Curtiss also hired novice chef Sara Garrant to work at Noca. Later, when he took over the kitchen at Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort, he recruited her again, but not before his old protégé, Stephenson, stole her to be his sous chef at Isabella’s Kitchen at Grayhawk in 2012 – thus creating our most circular family tree. “I feel lucky to have worked so long with Chris, a great teacher, so talented and so humble,” Garrant, now the executive chef at Bourbon Steak, says. “He let me take time off in the summers to go home to Alaska to help with my family’s fishing business.”

Tracing the DNA
Find a hint of Curtiss’ penchant for Old World sauce techniques in Stephenson’s roasted salmon at SaltRock, served with a textured amarillo sauce.


The House of Pinot; Photography by Michael WoodallThe House of Pinot
The staying power of seasonally driven, cowboy-kitschy Rancho Pinot – 25 years and counting – lies with one strong human: chef-owner Chrysa Robertson. With her “take no prisoners” work ethic, Robertson asks her collaborators to buck up or hit the road. She can’t remember the names of all the cooks and servers she had a hand in shaping, but a handful of battle-hardened warriors she trained include Charleen Badman (FnB), Sacha Levine (The In Betweens, Ocotillo and Singh Meadows) and Keenan Bosworth (Pig & Pickle). “I was there three-and-a-half years,” Bosworth says. “It was tough. She could look across the room and know if you were doing something wrong. But here’s the thing: She taught me technique. She’s a fundamentals person who looks for consistency.”

Michelle Mango, who now owns Mango Cakes, an artsy custom cake business sold solely through word-of-mouth, did pantry duty at Rancho Pinot at the same time Bosworth cooked on the line. “No one wanted to disappoint her,” Mango says. “Chrysa taught me not to rush through things.”

Badman’s partner at FnB, Pavle Milic, spent time in the front-of-the-house trenches at Rancho Pinot during the early years, soaking up wine knowledge he’d later translate into his current impresario status as sommelier and head of a new project in Willcox, Los Milics Winery.

Mustachioed cocktail guru Travis Nass began his tour at Rancho Pinot not behind the bar, but making salads and expediting. “I credit Chrysa with teaching me how to balance flavors,” he says. “Charleen, who was back from New York, made the cocktails. When the duty was passed to me, I had to run the cocktails by Charleen and Chrysa before they made the menu. Chrysa was the first I knew of who put cocktails as a feature on the menu.”

Badman, a five-time James Beard Award nominee who also mentored Levine through four tours of FnB duty, credits Robertson with teaching her the importance of cooking “in season.” Levine, who in addition to cooking at Rancho Pinot, FnB, Quiessence and Ocotillo, cooked for Claudio Urciuoli at Prado, opines: “What do you have to do to stay in this crazy business for 25 years? You have to stay relevant. Chrysa’s done that.”

Tracing the DNA
Ocotillo’s salad and small plates menu still carries much of the veg-med spice wizardry (e.g. fattoush salad) Levine gleaned from Badman.


The House of Landis; Photography by Michael WoodallThe House of Landis
Before launching Page Springs Cellars, winemaker Eric Glomski was a river restoration consultant and professor of river ecology at Prescott College. A chance meeting in the school’s parking lot changed the course of his life. “It was the early ’90s,” Glomski remembers. “And he literally walked up to me with a gigantic apple, like a scene out of Eden.”

“He” is Richard “Dick” Landis, an 87-year-old textile artist, whose work is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Glomski credits the Prescott resident with inspiring him to make apple wine derived from the wild orchards near the Verde River, an experience that led him down the professional winemaking path – first as a hired hand at the illustrious David Bruce Winery in California, then as the vigneron of his own Cornville winery.

A nurturing free spirit, Glomski soon gathered a flock of apprentice winemakers in Cornville, including Joe Bechard, fresh out of journalism school, who was covering Glomski’s zoning hearing for the local paper and was intrigued people were trying to make wine in Arizona. “Joe kept coming around,” Glomski says, ostensibly to write another story. Instead, Glomski offered him a job. Bechard started as a harvest intern and worked his way up to winemaker before he left PSC in 2010, and opened Chateau Tumbleweed winery with his wife, Kris Pothier, and another couple, five years later.

Similarly, Corey Turnbull started in the PSC tasting room and worked his way up through multiple positions at both PSC and Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Glomski’s volume winery. Turnbull launched his own label, Burning Tree Cellars, in 2008, and pulls double duty as the head winemaker at PSC. “You catch the bug to make your own wine,” he says, adding that Glomski’s mentorship trickled down into his own wine. “We have similar palates. We like the same structure and aromatics in wine.”

In a roundabout way, Glomski also became teacher to Landis himself. Sitting on a 27-year-old bottle of apple wine he’s been saving to share with Glomski – it was “too dry when it finished fermenting in 1991, so I put it back” – the artist sees a kindred spirit in the wine pro. “Eric is in control from root to glass to mouth. He knows what he’s doing, but he is still open to learning.”

Tracing the DNA
Bechard’s 2017 LeBlend masterfully mates Rhone styles with Barbera and Sangiovese for big flavor and light body – much like Glomski’s Mule’s Mistake.

The House of DeMaria; Photography by Michael WoodallThe House of DeMaria
Few Valley chefs have broadcast their culinary DNA as prolifically as Michael DeMaria, a function both of the chef’s stamina – 40 years in the business! – and illustrious list of former employers. The New York transplant cooked at the Biltmore, LON’s at the Hermosa Inn and T. Cook’s at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa before opening Michael’s at the Citadel in 1997, closing his namesake restaurant after a successful 10-year run to launch catering giant M Culinary Concepts.

Through it all, the depth and breadth of his human legacy – i.e., the cooks who passed through his kitchens and the cooks who passed through their kitchens – has grown to epic proportions.

Matt Carter (Zinc Bistro, The Mission, The House Brasserie, Fat Ox) says he was a “punk” before working with DeMaria. “He taught me discipline,” Carter says, “And how to organize and, frankly, how to stay in this crazy business.” Carter paid it forward when he brought on fresh-faced culinary grad Rochelle Daniel at Zinc in 2006. She worked her way up to chef de cuisine before L’Auberge de Sedona lured her away with an opportunity to revive the resort’s dining program, later rejoining Carter at Fat Ox. “I learned how to be efficient without cutting corners. Quality is important, but so is speed,” she says. “Yeah, I learned quick at the School of Matt Carter.”

So did Patrick Fegan (Windows on the Green, Fiamma), who met DeMaria in 1988 as an apprentice for the U.S. team at the International Culinary Exhibition and later worked under Carter at Michael’s. Fegan, in turn, mentored Jared Porter, now executive chef of Buck &Rider. “I was 20 or 21 when I was hired as a lunch cook at the Citadel,” Porter says. “It was the premier kitchen outside of Mary Elaine’s at the time. The exposure to ingredients and techniques blew my mind.”

Porter later worked with Doug Robson at La Grande Orange and followed Fegan to Fiamma before moving to The Parlor, where he met Joe Absolor. Porter took Absolor with him when he opened Clever Koi in 2013. “I owe a lot to Jared,” Absolor, now executive chef with Evening Entertainment Group (Stock & Stable), says. “He taught me the ropes in this business. His work ethic is unbeatable.”

Tracing the DNA
Is it a coincidence that the signature protein in DeMaria’s most famous dish (short rib cannelloni) shows up in three places on Absolor’s Stock and Stable menu? Maybe. Or it could be genetics.


The House of Brew; Photography by Michael WoodallThe House of Brew
Much hand-wringing ensued in 2015 when Anheuser-Busch InBev dished out $400 million to purchase Four Peaks Brewing Company, the state’s largest craft brewery. Some groused that Four Peaks, founded in 1996, could no longer be considered Arizonan.

Kind of a foolish supposition, considering all the Arizona talent trained by head brewer Andy Ingram – dozens upon dozens of local brewers, all with bits of Four Peaks floating in their genome. Several left to start their own craft breweries, including Dustin Hazer of Helio Basin Brewing Company, who recently collaborated with Ingram – who still runs Four Peaks alongside his co-founders – on a Kölsch with Idaho 7 hops for charity. “One way we [brewers] don’t step on each other’s toes is to develop our own styles. Andy does English-style ales and we do American-style.”

Ingram’s first hire, Anthony Canecchia, left on less than amicable terms after seven years, but that’s water under the bridge – especially in light of the fact that Canecchia’s SanTan Brewing Company, founded in 2007, has become a craft titan in its own right. “I totally respect Andy and what I learned there,” Canecchia said, “but Andy wanted rigid, science-based brewing, and I wanted to brew out of bounds.”

SanTan has produced its own share of brewer offspring – grandchildren, one might say, of Four Peaks. James Swann of Craft 64 was Canecchia’s first hire, and rock star brewer Patrick Ware also pulled a stretch before leaving to open Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company in 2014. Josh Telich kept showing up at SanTan until Canecchia finally relented, giving him a job as keg-washer. He moved up quickly and stayed seven years before leaving to join McFate Brewing Company. “I really learned everything from Anthony, and I respect how much he’s grown, but I reached a max level and I wanted to go explore other options.”

While at SanTan, Telich hired Jesse Kortepeter, now a brewer at Mesa’s 2-year-old Oro Brewing Company and Ingram’s figurative fourth-generation offspring – fitting, since he learned brewing from the same extension school as the Four Peaks patriarch.

Camaraderie in the Valley’s craft beer scene is palpable. “The beer business is 99 percent asshole-free,” Canecchia says. “But we all know who the 1 percent is.”

Tracing the DNA
Right out of the gate, Hazer’s pitch-perfect mid-palate beers at Helio reflected Ingram’s mania for structuring. Find Kiltlifter-like confidence in his Arcadia Amber.


The House of Beau; Photography by Michael WoodallThe House of Beau
Wait. A celebrity chef is the “father” of the craft cocktail scene in Phoenix?

You bet your bitters.

Beau MacMillan – executive chef of the swanky Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain resort, Iron Chef America champion and Food Network star – got the ball rolling after a fateful trip to the Aspen Food & Wine festival in 2007, where he waited in line 40 minutes to taste the wares of Portland-based mixology guru Ryan Magarian. The chef was so impressed he waited in line another 40 minutes to ask the bartender to visit Sanctuary and overhaul its cocktail program.

Magarian’s subsequent weeklong training session at the resort’s Jade Bar rubbed some of the older bartenders the wrong way – they wanted nothing to do with this “craft cocktail revolution.” Micah Olson was not one of them. A sommelier at the time, Olson had started dipping his toe behind the bar. He attended Magarian’s class. “I instantly fell in love,” he says.

A week or so later, another young enthusiast joined Micah in the Jade Bar. His name was Jason Asher. “Jason and I taught each other,” Olson says. “We were trying to steer people away from vodka and soda, and into drinks made with basil and lemongrass. Drinks made with balance and precision.”

Later, Asher would be featured in GQ magazine after winning the United States Bartenders Guild “Most Inspired Bartender” competition in 2010, and go on to co-found Barter & Shake, which owns UnderTow and Pobrecito, and has several more bar concepts coming in 2019. Olson – who currently runs the bar program at Arizona Distilling Co. – found fame as founding mixologist-partner at Crudo and Okra. “These two saw the power of the craft cocktail,” MacMillan says. “They believed the magic and they got to work. They bought cocktail books, studied and practiced. The attention they brought to Scottsdale was astounding.”

The Jade Bar princes trained a generation of bartenders, some of whom left Phoenix for fame and fortune at nationally recognized bars, like Jillian Vose of New York City’s Dead Rabbit; and some who stayed in Phoenix to open their own shops, like Sean Traynor of Cotton & Copper, who worked under the duo at their since-disbanded Counter Intuitive cocktail theme bar. “Jason took the time to teach me how to develop a cocktail,” Traynor says. “He gave me a copy of The Flavor Bible, and said, ‘Here’s how to think about layering flavors.’ I got the Jason Asher Cocktail Building 101 class.”

Tracing the DNA
Traynor’s Vulture City cocktail, made with fig-infused rum and orange liqueur, is a textbook booze-is-cooking-too drink in the Asher mold.

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