After watching a documentary about famed glass artist Dale Chihuly in the mid-’90s, Newt Grover was inspired to take up glassblowing. “I thought it was this unbelievably cool thing,” he says. “I’m somewhat impulsive, and I just want to go for it.” When Grover, who had previously worked in jewelry and neon art, started in the glassblowing game, there was nowhere to learn the technique in the Valley. The Ohio native taught himself by reading...

When Wisconsin native Brenda J. Schodt flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport before she started college at Arizona State University in 1980, she was captivated by the sunset out the window. That glimpse led to her career as an ornament maker – many of her creations feature Southwest landscapes and skylines.

Besides being home to some of the Valley's top restaurants, the Farm at South Mountain is a dynamic spot that hosts a variety of classes ranging from yoga to painting. One of its recurring classes is the Cheese Course 101. (A word to all the aspiring cheese mongers out there: alas, you won't learn how to make cheese. Basically, you learn how to eat it. As if there was a wrong way...)

Pineapple-topped guac on chips from The Mission.

Earlier this month, 14 chefs gathered at The Camby hotel in Central Phoenix for the Rock the Guac competition in honor of National Guacamole Day and benefitting Free Arts of Arizona. Their challenge? Creating different guacamoles designed to stand out.

I know taste testing 14 different guacamoles may seem like a dream, but let me tell you that guac has the tendency to taste more or less the same after a few scoops. But in the name of journalism, I persevered.

The sweetest (perhaps weirdest) take was from Tarbell’s in Phoenix that whipped up a chocolate mousse dessert topped with an avocado mousse/puree. It was tasty but let’s face it, couldn’t pass as guacamole. I can’t say there were any competitors that I flat out didn’t like at all, but my favorite was The Market by Jennifer’s. I loved that the chef used focaccia instead of the hackneyed tortilla chip and how she managed to seamlessly blend many different flavors and textures together.

Below are four guacamoles that stood out, both to me and the official judges, plus a recipe for the first prize winner.

The dining room at Hearth '61 at Mountain Shadows Resort. Photo by David B. Moore.

Gone are the days of bland continental buffets and dry chicken breasts at your hotel's diner. More and more, talented Valley chefs are decamping from standalone restaurants to helm the kitchens of Phoenix's impressive hotels and resorts. But that's old news to Charles Wiley, who's been churning out impossibly fresh, creative and expertly made food at Valley resort restaurants for years.

With more than 40 years of experience under his belt, Wiley’s list of accolades is impressive: Food & Wine magazine named him one of “The Ten Best New Chefs in America,” and the James Beard Foundation recognized him as “One of the Best Hotel Chefs of America.” He worked for a decade at The Boulders before opening Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort in 2001. He went down the road to run the Hotel Valley Ho’s dining program in 2005 and opened the revamped Mountain Shadow Resort’s signature restaurant Hearth ’61 as executive chef and director of food and beverage earlier this year.

PHOENIX recently caught up with Wiley to chat about opening a new restaurant, how the Valley’s culinary landscape has changed since he first arrived, and the current trend of why so many top local chefs are working at hotels.*