Where Chefs Choose to Chow Down
They spend the majority of their waking hours crafting mouthwatering dishes that are showcased at some of the city’s most popular and buzzy restaurants. A chef’s schedule leaves little time for leisurely anything—let alone dining. So when they get a night off to let someone else do the cooking, the choice is made wisely.
Curious as to what pleases professional palates? Three Valley chefs talk about where they get sustenance when they’re not providing it for us.
Ryan Swanson, Kai, Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass
When he’s not overseeing the creation and execution of the acclaimed seasonal Native American-inspired fare for which Kai has earned numerous accolades, including AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star honors, Ryan Swanson indulges his passion for hiking, golfing, hockey and vinyl records.
He also enjoys when someone else dishes out the good eats.
Swanson’s diverse haunts include restaurants helmed by James Beard Award winners—Nobuo Fukuda’s Nobuo at Teeter House and Chris Bianco’s Tratto—the ultra-casual Ted’s Hot Dogs in Tempe, and Welcome Diner in downtown Phoenix, where Swanson goes for the chorizo meatloaf served with a chipotle and white wine cream, pickled vegetables and Brabant potatoes.
But a low-key dinner featuring mom’s home cooking will always rank as his top go-to favorite. A close second?
“If she is out of town, a glass of wine and some good cheese will hold me over,” says Swanson, who apprenticed under Vincent on Camelback chef and James Beard Award-winner Vincent Guerithault.
On his own menu, the fly south dish holds a special place in Swanson’s culinary heart.
“Elegance and rustic meet on a dish,” he says of the entrée gracefully composed of cocoa and mesquite cured duck breast, burnt orange and Graythorn glazed duck wing, blue corn tamale, dried stone fruit mole and sweet potato.
When dreaming of the perfect meal, Swanson’s hometown of Prescott is the setting. It would commence with seasonal vegetables paired with Malvasia Bianca from Page Spring Cellars, followed by an assortment of brats and grilled meats partnered with Huss Brewing’s lager-like Scottsdale Blonde or Wren House Brewing Company’s Valley Beer. It continues with a slice of pie from the Rustic Pie Company in Prescott or Rock Springs Café, with a hot cup of Cartel Coffee Lab java.
Oh, and he adds a fourth course: “A walk.”
Charles Wiley, Hearth ’61, Mountain Shadows
His culinary career spans more than 40 years and includes several stints as the executive chef for luxurious resorts around the U.S. and launching lauded eateries such as Elements at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa. So it’s easy to assume Charles Wiley’s tastes lean toward haute cuisine that requires exotic ingredients with names that are tricky to pronounce and a lot of tedious fuss to get it on the plate.
However, that assumption would be incorrect. In fact, Wiley, who was named one of “The Ten Best Chefs in America” by Food & Wine (amongst other honors), almost apologizes for possibly disappointing readers in his personal palate preferences.
“I’m a very basic guy. I like very simple food in its purist form,” says Wiley, who oversees all food and beverage operations for Sanctuary, Mountain Shadows and Hotel Valley Ho. “I’m afraid I’m not very exciting.”
So what spots hit Wiley’s yearning for simple yet impeccable quality over fancy glitz when he’s got a free night? Wiley is known to haunt FnB in Old Town Scottsdale, where he says chef/co-owner Charleen Badman “is a master at vegetables.” He also frequents Pomo Pizzeria near his Scottsdale home for its dishes crafted with fresh ingredients.
“What I love about Pomo is their so, so simple and beautiful Neapolitan-style pizza,” he says.
Wiley satisfies his passion for the fresh and high-quality seafood at Houston’s, where he can be found having dinner at the bar.
“They’ve got a seared ahi salad that is amazing,” he says of the dish that’s served with an almond vinaigrette, avocado, cucumber and mango.
At Hearth ‘61, Wiley is personally partial to the two seafood entrées that showcase Scottsdale’s Chula Seafood’s day-boat scallops and line-caught swordfish, respectively. The heirloom tomato salad that’s served with burrata, arugula, lemon caper vinaigrette and a pinch of Maldon Sea Salt also ranks high.
“It’s so simple and so perfect.”
Justin Beckett, Beckett’s Table and Southern Rail
Nightly, Justin Beckett’s restaurants are packed with patrons drawn to his elevated versions of comfort food that run the gamut from Beckett’s Table’s cast iron chicken and bacon biscuit stuffing to the cornmeal fried okra and iconic fried chicken at Southern Rail.
While they dine on comfortable chairs and tables, Beckett doesn’t have that luxury.
“I do a lot of grazing while standing,” says the Phoenix restaurateur who garnered a nomination for Food & Wine magazine’s People’s Best New Chef award in 2012, and gained national attention with an appearance on the Food Network’s Chopped.
A taco is an easy solution.
“I throw things into a tortilla… shredded beef or just vegetables,” Beckett says, offering a pro tip. “I put a smear of mashed potatoes that holds everything together. It gives it a rich, creamy consistency.”
When Beckett does have time to sit, he hits The Parlor for the calabrian pie topped with spicy Calabrese salumi, burrata and watercress. Pizzeria Bianco and Tratto are also favorites, where he opts for vegetable dishes and the pasta specials.
On his own menus, Beckett has a soft spot for the grilled cheese that flaunts a crunchy exterior that surrenders to a melty gooey four-cheese mélange interior, and the pork osso buco confit that is accompanied by späetzle at Beckett’s Table. At Southern Rail, he’s partial to the fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and the smoked chicken and andouille gumbo, on which he snacks the most.
“It needs to be consistent, so I try it multiple times a week. It’s quality control, but it’s also so good,” he says.
His advice to Valley diners?
“Don’t just get a salad and commit to one entrée. Get four different appetizers for your entrée. Find your way around the menu. It gives you a chance to get a feel of a restaurant.”