James Beard-Nominated Baker
Mark Chacón still can’t believe the announcement in February that he was a 2022 James Beard Award Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. He wasn’t even sure Chacónne Patisserie, which he started with partner Alicia D. Polak and sous chef Charlie Mendoza late last year, was eligible for the honor, as it functions as a pickup-only ghost kitchen in Uptown Phoenix. (You can order his delectable cream cheese Danish or cinnamon brioche at chaconnepatisserie.com, or find them Downtown at Futuro coffeeshop or Uptown Farmers Market.) Then again, nothing about the chef’s life has been typical. Chacón came to the Valley intending to play and teach violin, but when health issues derailed his dream, he fell in love with baking and drove to San Francisco to learn his craft at the world-famous Tartine. He came back to Phoenix and served as Chris Bianco’s pastry chef before striking out on his own. Chacón spent a few moments discussing what he learned from the pizza maker and why Phoenix is home.
What did you learn as Chris Bianco’s pastry chef?
He suggested that I consider doing something less traditional, and pointed me in the direction of a cloud kitchen because he thought it sounded like a unique opportunity. [It’s] one big building. We don’t share the same kitchen space [as the other tenants], but we each have 200 square feet tailored to everyone’s needs. They also run a platform that brings food out to the customer or a food-pickup driver. It’s a fast and casual way to get food out there without the fuss and overhead. If there is one thing we’ve learned during the pandemic, people are open to getting their food in different ways.
Your Instagram is pretty sweet. Any tips on how chefs should use social media?
I don’t have a lot of confidence in my use of social networking apps. I don’t know if being yourself and putting out a product you’re proud of is a technique, but it seems to be working out so far. I don’t know if it will bite me in the you-know-what, but something that I enjoy is sharing what I’m doing. When I was staging [in the culinary world, a stage is an internship] at Tartine, they were happy to share recipes. They believed the baker’s hands gave a recipe a special something, and I agree with that.
Is there a specific pastry or technique of yours that you think might have swayed the Beard voters?
I believe it’s the finishing touches in my morning pastries that I’ve learned from my experience. I also specialize in lamination. I had an experience in 2007 when I worked at Tartine watching a chef named Lori Oyamada shape, proof and laminate the dough. It embodied what I love about music, and I wanted to learn more about it. I kept seeking more experience. Now that I’ve accumulated all this knowledge and managed my own bakers, it’s been great to bring it all together.
What do you love about being a chef in Phoenix?
Everyone’s heads were swimming during the pandemic, and I didn’t know what to do. I ended up getting a job possibility in London, and at the same time, I met my partner. I think the deciding factor was that I felt like Phoenix was home. Frankly, I’ve learned a lot and I’m at a point in life where I can put my experience to good use and see what my voice is. After meeting this wonderful person, I thought, “Give it a full chance here.” That’s what I did, and it was the best possible decision. This is how I wanted things to turn out.