Q&A

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Chef Lee Hillson recently returned to T. Cooks at Royal Palms Resort and Spa as executive chef and he couldn’t be happier. He spent 12 years at the iconic resort in the early 2000s as executive sous chef and then as executive chef. Hillson, a James Beard House featured chef and a participant on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, has also graced the kitchens of The Phoenician Resort and the Sheraton Grand at Wild...

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When the Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix opens on Nov. 26, so will its new restaurant, Poppy, with executive chef Nate Cayer at the helm. Cayer, a recent Chicago transplant, has spent time meeting with local vendors to get a feel for the community and has designed Poppy’s menu with seasonality and shareability in mind. Before moving to Phoenix, Cayer served as executive chef at The Godfrey Hotel in Chicago. We recently caught up with him...

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Q: What’s behind the decision to reinvent Phoenix Public Market Café? A: In the past six months I split with my business partner, so my business shrunk in half, which is a good thing. The last couple of years I’ve had a lot of growth in my business and I’ve decided that I miss being in the kitchen and spending time there and creating new menu items. Phoenix Public Market Café is my main restaurant...

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Wichayanuparp dining on pig ears at Gourmet Dumpling House
Let’s hear it for the girls. In September, Jan Wichayanuparp, one half of the lady-led team behind the Valley’s favorite ice creamery Sweet Republic, traveled to Boston for the James Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. She was one of 20 women selected to attend the prestigious fellowship – a five-day business boot camp of courses, lectures and mentorship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

“I was there with people who are James Beard [Award] nominees, who are running Food & Wine best restaurants. I was pretty awed by the people I got to learn with,” Wichayanuparp says. “As women, we do bring different things to the table, a unique viewpoint and execution, and I think that matters.”

Though there was “no free time” during the fellowship, Wichayanuparp made sure to tack a few days on to the end of her stay to taste test as much as she could in Boston, and gave us the highlights.

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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.*

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Valley food blogger Joanie Simon is about to make her Food Network debut – with Guy Fieri in tow, no less. But she’s not chowing down with the ebullient host at a drive-in, diner or dive. Instead, Fieri has her scurrying through the aisles of a grocery store.

Simon will appear on an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games, airing this Sunday, August 13, at 6 p.m. ET. For the uninitiated, the show features four chefs competing against each other in a grocery store set stocked with premium ingredients. In every 30-minute episode, each contestant shops for and prepares a dish, which is then judged. The last chef standing at the end gets two minutes to shop for items on a list, and wins a grand prize of $20,000 if he or she can find them all.

PHOENIX recently caught up with Simon, whose episode was shot last November, to talk about the stress of live food competition and whether Guy is really as wacky as he seems on TV.

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Downtown Phoenix has just added another culinary luminary to its roster: James Beard award-winning Chef Alex Stratta has recently taken over as culinary director at MATCH: Restaurant & Cocktails inside the chic and arty FOUND:RE Hotel.

Stratta’s storied career includes stints at Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician, ALEX and Stratta restaurants inside the Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, as well as Prado at the Omni Montelucia Resort in Scottsdale. His accomplishments include a coveted two-star rating by the Michelin Guide (three times over, in fact, for his namesake restaurant ALEX in Las Vegas) and Stratta was once named Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef.

First on his to-do list at MATCH is to completely revamp the menu, which skewed to a "global street food" theme (and didn't wow our dining critic). Ahead of Stratta's menu debut in September, PHOENIX caught up with the guy who most recently raised eyebrows by hanging his hat at the respectable but decidedly un-showy and non-James Beard-y The Herb Box.

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Once known for its lumberjack college kids, good skiing and decent drinkin' scene, Flagstaff is quickly making a name for itself as a foodie town (and we're not just talking about the phenomenal pizza). To explore the burgeoning culinary scene up north, we're running a series of Q&As with the personalities behind the chef hats behind the town's restaurant renaissance we're calling the "Flag Food Boom."

Today we're chatting with:

Paul Moir
Proper Meats + Provisions
110 S. San Francisco St., Flagstaff
928-774-9001, propermeats.com

In 2014, the folks behind Brix and Criollo Latin Kitchen opened Proper Meats + Provisions, a neighborhood butcher shop and deli housed in a downtown Flagstaff historic building. The shop features all local, farm-raised meats, poultry and cured products as well as a deli menu loaded with sandwiches to swoon over, including a house-made pastrami sandwich on grilled rye bread and a fried chicken po’boy. Co-owner Paul Moir recently talked turkey with PHOENIX magazine.

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Once known for its lumberjack college kids, good skiing and decent drinkin' scene, Flagstaff is quickly making a name for itself as a foodie town (and we're not just talking about the phenomenal pizza). To explore the burgeoning culinary scene up north, we're running a series of Q&As with the personalities behind the chef hats behind the town's restaurant renaissance we're calling the "Flag Food Boom."

Today we're chatting with:

Chef Derek Christensen
Tinderbox Kitchen
34 S. San Francisco St., Flagstaff
928-226-8400, tinderboxkitchen.com

When Tinderbox Kitchen opened almost eight years ago on South San Francisco Street, the surrounding businesses included a strip club, a tattoo parlor and a dance club. At the time, Flagstaff didn’t have much in the way of fine dining restaurants, according to Tinderbox’s head chef Derek Christensen. The cuisine was centered on upscale comfort food – meat loaf, macaroni and cheese and Salisbury steak – but Christensen says the focus is now on a seasonally changing menu. He also oversees the kitchens of the adjacent Annex Cocktail Lounge and Tourist Home, a breakfast and lunch restaurant that also features to-go specialty items.

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Once known for its lumberjack college kids, good skiing and decent drinkin' scene, Flagstaff is quickly making a name for itself as a foodie town (and we're not just talking about the phenomenal pizza). To explore the burgeoning culinary scene up north, we're running a series of Q & A's with the personalities behind the chef hats behind the town's restaurant renaissance we're calling the "Flag Food Boom."

Today we're chatting with:

"Panda" Clark
SoSoBa, The Non-Stop Noodle Shop
12 Historic Route 66, #104, Flagstaff
928-774-3471, nonstopnoodleshop.com

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Once known for its lumberjack college kids, good skiing and decent drinkin' scene, Flagstaff is quickly making a name for itself as a foodie town (and we're not just talking about the phenomenal pizza). To explore the burgeoning culinary scene up north, we're running a series of Q & A's with the personalities behind the chef hats behind the town's restaurant renaissance we're calling the "Flag Food Boom."

Today we're chatting with:

Caleb Schiff
Pizzicletta
203 W. Phoenix Ave., Flagstaff
928-774-3242, pizzicletta.com

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Once known for its lumberjack college kids, good skiing and decent drinkin' scene, Flagstaff is quickly making a name for itself as a foodie town (and we're not just talking about the phenomenal pizza). To explore the burgeoning culinary scene up north, we're running a series of Q & A's with the personalities behind the chef hats behind the town's restaurant renaissance we're calling the "Flag Food Boom."

Today we're chatting with:

Brian Konefal
Coppa Café
1300 S. Milton Rd., Flagstaff
928-637-6813, coppacafe.net

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Once known for its lumberjack college kids, good skiing and decent drinkin' scene, Flagstaff is quickly making a name for itself as a foodie town (and we're not just talking about the phenomenal pizza). Today, we kick off the first in a series of Q & A's with the personalities behind the chef hats behind the town's restaurant renaissance we'll call the "Flag Food Boom."

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Valley native Peter McQuaid developed an interest in cooking at a young age. He read cookbooks and experimented with dishes at home, but it wasn’t until he got a job working for Silvana Salcido Esparza at Barrio Urbano that his culinary talents emerged. Now 18-years-old, McQuaid is attending culinary school at the International Culinary Center in New York City. He won a scholarship with Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) and was a recipient of the prestigious 2015 James Beard Foundation’s Taste America scholarship. He’s back home in the Valley this week to participate in the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America tour Sept. 22-24. We caught up with him by phone last week.

For more than 50 years, PHOENIX magazine's experienced writers, editors, and designers have captured all sides of the Valley with award-winning and insightful writing, and groundbreaking report and design. Our expository features, narratives, profiles, and investigative features keep our 385,000 readers in touch with the Valley's latest trends, events, personalities and places.