It’s hard to imagine that Vincent Guerithault has been cooking for 50 years. But the smooth-faced fellow in the chef’s smock with the full head of hair and the handshake like a vise—five decades of squeezing a piping bag, maybe—was the guest of honor at his own place, Vincent’s on Camelback, this past Friday for a “Toast and Roast” celebrating a half-century at his craft.
“Did you start when you were eight?” I asked him, as he applied his iron-chef grip.
“Two,” he corrected. Then he noted a new arrival’s presence with “Look, Jerry Colangelo is here. He is Italian, but…” He shrugged indulgently, as if to say, we’ll let him in anyway.
Colangelo was only one of many Valley bigshots who turned out to gently tease Guerithault (and each other) while eagerly snarfing up one of the more sublime meals any of us are ever likely to have. The six courses included an appetizer of asparagus wrapped in eggplant, duck consommé under a puff pastry roof, lobster and sea scallops in beurre blanc, an unforgivably yummy veal sweetbread turnover with wild mushrooms, and beef tenderloin topped with foie gras between a parentheses of exquisitely light soufflé potatoes, with lemon crepe soufflé for dessert.
TV personality Tara Hitchcock emceed the affair, which had everything from a video presentation by Dr. Robert Spetzler of the Barrow Neurological Institute to the comedy stylings of Senator John Kyl, as well as video greetings from the likes of Harvey Mackay and Wolfgang Puck. A few highlights:
—Hitchcock told a tear-jerking story about how Guerithault cooked a turkey a week for her aged, blind dog in the last weeks of his life. Guerithault later noted that, when he first went to work at a restaurant in the south of France, the only food he was allowed to prepare was for dogs; writing home to his family at the time he’d tell them about his culinary creations, but didn’t tell them he was “Chef of the Dogs.”
—Introduced by Hitchcock as “the only Democrat in the room,” former Arizona Secretary of State Terry Goddard proudly recalled writing the first review of Guerithault’s first Arizona restaurant, on Pinnacle Peak, when he was a “secret reviewer” for Business Journal. “Some of us thought he was in the French Witness Protection Program,” said Goddard, who recalled that the reactions of his party to that first meal “were ecstatic, and most of them were sexual.” He also claimed that it was this review that led to Vincent’s first New York Times rave, from Craig Claiborne.
—Colangelo, still smarting from Team USA’s loss to France in the FIBA Basketball World Cup last month, said “It occurred to me when it was over, my gosh, I have to go honor Vincent? He’ll be all over this.”
—Mark Tarbell, for whom Guerithault courteously provided a riser behind the podium to account for his slight height, quipped that Guerithault had “helped Chef Boyardee with the letter choice in the alphabet soup. He said ‘Get the F out of there.’” Tarbell also claimed that while the place was officially named Vincent’s on Camelback, “It’s known as the place where people stop for a drink while they’re waiting for a table at Durant’s.”
—Sticking more to softballs than Tarbell, Kyl bemoaned how difficult it is to come up with good zingers for the famously good-natured and generous Guerithault: “It’s kind of like a priest taking confession from Mother Teresa. Not a lot of material there.”