Category: Chef Spotlight (Page 1 of 2)

Spotlight: A Competitor’s Journey with Julie Fiedler

In this special Spotlight video feature, we follow Into the Soup contributor Julie Fiedler to the American Culinary Federation Western Regional Student Chef of the Year Competition. If you want to see what true culinary competitions are all about, check out this great 10min video. This is one of our best. Click the screen to start.


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In association with Nocturnal Productions

Who’s Cookin’ Now: Milling Around with Julian Wright

by Emily King

Mill Avenue is the place to be and be seen on a Friday afternoon. College-aged students are sitting outside enjoying a few beers after a long week of classes. Street performers are setting up shop on corners in preparation for an evening of entertaining the inebriated masses as they hop from bar to bar. Good-looking servers are rolling out space heaters to make patio-seating more comfortable. It’s a hip and inviting scene—the perfect setting for new restaurant concepts, or in the case of Julian Wright, a few new restaurant concepts.

Julian Wright, owner of La Bocca Urban Pizzeria and Canteen Modern Tequila Bar, is truly “the man behind the curtain” of both of his current operations. Luckily for him, they are located just across the street from each other, and I’m quite certain that he saves a fair amount of money on a gym membership as he runs between these  two very popular establishments.

       

                                                            Dusk at Canteen and La Bocca

Despite his busy schedule, Wright has mastered the art of the “poker face.” The man is in constant motion during our interview. He jumps up every now and then to make sure that a minor repair job is going well, answers queries from his staff, and greets the regulars, yet he never seems to be overwhelmed. It’s the kind of work-ethic and multi-tasking ability that develops from years of experience in the restaurant industry—experience that Wright gained as he worked his way through college.

After graduating from ASU, Wright forged ahead in the fast-paced restaurant industry. As a bartender and server on the opening teams of many new restaurants, he was able to observe the successes and failures of numerous owners and managers. Before long, he too was an owner doing his best to avoid making the mistakes of his predecessors.

Make no bones about it: Opening a restaurant is a tricky business that perplexes even the most talented and intelligent professionals. Perhaps what sets Wright apart is his attention to detail and his participation in every aspect of his restaurants. He is the king of “winging it,” proving that formal training in culinary, design, and carpentry are nice, but not always key to success.

 

Wright opened La Bocca in 2008, “as the sky was falling,” he jokes. With less disposable income, people were especially picky about where they ate, and Wright didn’t feel like the mediocre crust La Bocca was turning out at the time was cutting it. Ever the busy-body, Wright headed to the kitchen and stayed there for 6 months learning the intricacies of pizza dough. He admits that La Bocca’s process is unconventional, but customers can’t get enough of it. Mission accomplished.

Of course, the pizza isn’t the only thing that makes La Bocca a shining star among the slew of eateries on Mill; the signature flatbread, and garlicky baba ganoush (Caution: do not consume on date-night if you intend to get that goodnight kiss) are delicious components of the medley plate. The Queen Creek Olives, tasty feta, and smooth hummus are perfect accompaniments for a glass (or three) of wine and good conversation. For more substantial noshing, I’d spring for the Mascarpone, Smoked Prosciutto, and Truffle Oil Bruschetta. Basically, Ecstasy without the pill–or those pesky urges.

Then, of course, there are the impressive interiors of both Canteen and La Bocca which look like the creations of a professional designer with access to a large budget. In fact, the chief interior designer of both restaurants was Wright himself, armed with only his creativity, the local Ikea, and the patience “to go to Lowes and get nine different colors of paint.”

The Bar at Canteen

Wright denies that he is an artist although I beg to differ. It takes the spirit of an artist to look at a space and work with the existing pieces the way he does. He points to the long, upholstered benches that run parallel to the bar in the center of Canteen; they are cream-colored with splashes of lime green—the exact shade of the wall behind the benches.  Clearly, he wasn’t kidding about all those trips to Lowe’s.

While Mill Avenue may be the place ‘to be and be seen’, the scene (yeah, I know) at both La Bocca and Canteen is well worth any trip to Tempe.  Stop in and say “Hello” to Julian – he may sit down and give you some interior design tips.

Who’s Cookin’ Now: Chef Francine Marz

by Emily King

It’s about a quarter to five on a Wednesday afternoon. I can hear the cheerful chatter of students in the kitchen as they pack up their knife kits. Chef Marz makes her closing announcements interspersed with gentle teasing in an attempt to encourage some of the less motivated students to complete their homework for the next class. The students file out of the classroom smiling and energized. A few moments later, Chef Marz exits the kitchen.

She is walking slowly and there is a tired tone in her voice, but she still greets me with a smile. Later on in the interview, I will learn that her exhaustion is due to the fact that she stayed after class working with a few students until nearly midnight the previous night. I’m not at all surprised by this fact because that’s just how Chef Marz operates; as she puts it, “I have to put in 120-150% every day, so I can sleep at night.”

Chef Francine Marz puts that the kind of effort into all of her roles at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Phoenix where she is chef-instructor and coach of the school’s culinary competition team. In addition to teaching, she is a working on her M.B.A. from Argosy University. With a schedule like that, it’s incredible that she is able to muster the passion and the vigor that she brings to the classroom each day.

She calls her brand of teaching “edutainment” which stems from to her mission to be the instructor she “never had and always wanted.” While Chef Marz holds her students to the highest standards and has even been known to demand an entire re-mopping of floors that she feels are not up to par, students love her classes because they know they can expect to go on field trips, listen to culturally relevant music, and watch the occasional movie clip as they prepare the cuisine of the day. It’s not unusual for students to begin a day of French cooking with a clip from the movie Ratatouille or to enter a kitchen that sounds more like a Latin dance-party as they get ready to tackle Central-American cuisine. Laughter is also a common sound in Chef Marz’s classes. Her lessons are memorable, and in the case of her demonstration on fish fabrication, they occasionally come with “prizes.” Who knew that fish eyeballs, when dried, turn into bouncy balls? Chef Marz’s students do.

 While her teaching style differs from the regimented structure of the education she received from Johnson and Wales of Rhode Island, she credits her flawless work ethic and sense of professionalism to her experience in the program. She was a fierce competitor on the school’s culinary team and completed a baking and pastry-focused internship at Disney’s Epcot Center and the Disney Contemporary Restaurant. She was even one of seven students who received a full-ride scholarship to complete her Master’s Degree at Johnson and Wales, but she ultimately decided that she wanted to get her hands dirty. She felt that putting all of her energy into the industry would allow her to gain experience and generate a network of contacts. This proved to be a wise choice as she developed a stunning resume working for some of the most high-profile companies in the industry.

Chef Marz started out as a butcher and food-stylist at Dean and DeLucca (North Carolina), which is an elite chain of gourmet food stores on the east coast.  Her experience at Dean and DeLucca opened many doors which led to her roles as sous chef, chef tournant, and Executive Chef for Marriott and Renaissance Suites Hotels — all before she was 30. In other words, it took just under a decade for Chef Marz to complete a progression through the ranks of the industry that takes other chefs a lifetime to achieve. When asked about the force that has propelled her through her career thus far, Chef Marz simply points to her passion for food and hospitality.

“I’m just a Chef who wants to make people happy,” she says humbly.

 

These days, she is spreading happiness on a larger scale than she ever imagined as she equips culinary students with the skills, confidence, and passion they will need to be successful in the industry. Chef Marz is a phenomenal teacher, enjoys her job, and has always been an unstoppable force. When I ask her about her future career aspirations, she admits to being a big supporter of “riding the wave” and seeing where it takes her. Luckily, for culinary students at the Art Institute of Phoenix, the wave is keeping her close to their shore for the time-being.

Who’s Cookin’ Now: Chef Emily Greenland, Rock Star Caterer

by Emily King

You may remember Emily Greenland as the “Rock Star Chef” of Emily’s Events that we speak of from our radio show on KFNX1100. We originally gave her this pseudonym because Emily uses it to describe the incredibly fresh, top-notch ingredients she includes in her dishes.

I can personally attest to this because (Lucky Me!) she fixed an incredible meal of poached Salmon with yogurt-dill sauce, oven-roasted red potatoes with fresh herbs, and sautéed asparagus during our interview—and get this—she did it all with a sincere smile on her face. But, after getting to know Emily and realizing that she is both an anomaly in the kitchen and a guru of customer service, it’s clear that the title suits her. After all, anyone who can cater an extravagant party one day, and deliver gorgeous meals to a corporate office the next while wearing $200 heels is—well– pretty Rock Star!

 

Catering is in Emily’s blood. Her mother was a chef and began Emily’s culinary foundation by letting Emily assist her in the kitchen. Emily also paid her dues serving in some high-profile restaurants including one owned by Carlos Nieto, one of the forerunners of the small-plate movement.  Aside from cooking, she found that she enjoyed singing and acting. In fact, Emily earned her first degree in Musical Theatre from Stephen’s College, an all-girl’s “finishing school” in Missouri. She says (and would like to emphasize to her parents who footed the bill) that the training is very useful in the event planning industry because every event is like a production. It can be chaos before the show.  Fortunately, with her knack for problem solving, sheer will, and winning personality, she pulls off an incredible performance while her clients remain unaware to any hang-ups that may occur. She explains it simply: “When that curtain opens, you have got to be on your game.”

A recurring theme in all of Emily’s anecdotes is her ability to use both her formal and self-education to further her business. She is constantly reading cookbooks and teaching herself about all of the elements that go into a successful event. When Emily wants to learn the latest trends in lighting or decoration, she finds the industry leader, hires them, and soaks up all the knowledge that she can in order to recreate the effects on her own. She believes that in order to be the best, you must learn from the best. Her motivation and innovative approach to the industry are truly her greatest assets as a business woman.

 

“The thing about Emily,” says David Lee, a Business Development Consultant who Emily brought in to help her through this period of rapid growth, “Is that she is not afraid to challenge herself. She has an amazing business mind and limitless energy.”

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Emily’s company is how she markets her business. There is no sign on her door, no menus on her website, or even a website at this point. She isn’t even listed in the phonebook. In fact, she relies completely on word-of-mouth publicity. Again, her innovative ideas and adherence to superior customer service come into play to make what seems to be such a simple marketing plan work. She found a winning formula: Her company caters for a reliable, corporate client, and she treats her staff like family. Her confidence in her staff and a stable corporate base enable her to pour her heart and soul into her other clients. She has even been known to sit down with clients and dig deep into their psyches to design a menu that allows them to relive milestone events. “What did you and your husband/wife eat on your first date?” She might ask. You can bet that she will deconstruct that meal to invent an appetizer incorporating all of those flavors to evoke a wonderful memory.

Ever the go-getter, Emily is on the cusp of venturing into a whole new catering niche. She will continue to serve her loyal clients with the smile they have come to know so well, but it will be interesting to see Emily’s Events grow to new heights. I guess you could say this lovely lady has a pretty “Rock Star”-lookin’ future ahead of her.

 

If you would like to contact Emily about catering call  (480) 707-2251

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more Whose Cookin’ Now articles about Successful women in cooking, click here

 

 

Who’s Cookin’ Now: Chef Kirsten Seltzer

While waiting for Kirsten Seltzer to emerge from the kitchen at the Wigwam Resort for her interview I was expecting a lady in her late thirties to early forties. Nope. There aren’t many women who become the Executive Chef of one of the most revered restaurants at one of the most prestigious resorts in Arizona before the age of 30. Impressed? Absolutely!

Chef Kirsten Seltzer is a breath of fresh air. I would wager her lack of airs and her straight forward demeanor are just a few of the reasons she is successful.

Selzer graduated from high school in Northern Pennsylvania and bounced around seeking her path. A few years later, a bolt of lightning struck, and she entered culinary school. After graduating from the outstanding program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts, she was offered some choice options for externships; hence, her manifest destiny to the Wigwam Resort in 1999.

Selzer put in 450 hours of externship and within two years was promoted to Garde Manger supervisor for the entire the resort. Two years later she moved into banquet supervision then onto Chef Tournant, meaning “I’ll do it if you can’t,” and in July 2007, she was promoted to Chef de Cuisine of Red’s Steakhouse where she spent the next three years.

 

Under her tutelage, Red’s was awarded the Mobil AAA Four Diamond Status all three years. Selzer is currently in the position of Banquet Chef – that’s a lot of covers at the Wigwam. When asked why she moved around she stated, “I just want to know the whole operation.”  Good answer.

Selzer grew up as an only child with lots of male cousins. Undeterred by her gender, she “broke nearly every bone in (her) body keeping up with the boys.”  Although being an executive chef doesn’t always require body slams, her tomboy background plays well in her favor. “You gotta’ be tough to make it in this business”, says Selzer.  “If someone gives you crap, you’ve got to stand up and give it right back!”

When asked her inspiration for cooking, her answer is typically family oriented.  “My Grandmother taught me how to cook.”  

Her grandma spent 50 years in the biz, working as a Chef for a Nursing Home in Pennsylvania.  If you think it’s hard for a woman to break the barrier now, think how tough it was 50 years ago. Selzer must have been paying attention to that Grandma of hers.

Aside from all of her drive, talent and professionalism, she’s a little self-deprecating and a lot of fun. Someone I could most certainly have a few pops with. We asked her to smile for the camera and she said, “You’ll have to make me laugh to get me to smile for a picture.” So, I told her a joke, dropped the “F” bomb a few times and – voila!

Selzer has a really good sense of humor and a very strong sense of family. She saves up vacation time and heads home to Philly during the slow (i.e. hotter than hell) season here. A few days in the city visiting friends, and she’s off to her family’s beach house in Delaware. They do some serious water sports, go shark fishing (yes, you read that correctly), crabbing and enjoy a low country boil of corn, onion, potato, andouille sausage, crab and shrimp. 

I asked her for the recipe for the boil and she says, “Are you kidding?  I don’t cook when I’m home on vacation?”  So she settles in with her big family, knocks back a few cold ones and sponges up the relaxation she so richly deserves.

Selzer admits that she doesn’t cook for herself as much as she’d like to, but if she did, she’d go Italian with some pasta and good sauces. She nearly put on an accent for this part of the conversation while speaking highly of Tony Luke’s in Philadelphia and their signature Chicken Italiano Sandwich. When asked of her dream job, she mentioned her own catering company or, better yet, her own joint in the East with family stopping by for dinner. I’d eat there.

 

Back to reality and time to attend to the work for which she so passionate. So, for Chef Kirsten Selzer, it doesn’t really seem like work at all which is probably one of the biggest reasons for her success. I’m sure that her Grandmother is quite proud.  

Who’s Cookin’ Now: Faith Wipperman Interview

by Heidi Lee, March 2010

If you’ve never been to Lon’s at The Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley, you’re really missing out.  It’s one of the premier dining experiences in Phoenix and a small step back in time should you take the time to look around. They’ve got several new attractions, one of which is Faith Wipperman. I popped in one morning and it seemed as if the entire staff was happy to help me locate her. In fact, they went looking with big, fat smiles on their faces. Faith makes people happy.

Not only is her optimism contagious, she embodies it for all the right reasons. “I choose to get up every day and be thankful and smile,” says Wipperman. “I work better when I’m happy and that helps a lot, especially in a restaurant kitchen.”

Faith graduated with Honors from Raymond S. Kellis High School and took her C-CAP scholarship to the Arizona Culinary Institute where she excelled.  From there she went onto to Lon’s for her externship and was recently promoted to Saute and Entrementier. Wipperman works like a horse, is passionately dedicated to her profession and has a vocabulary that rivals that of Ben Stein. Did I mention that she’s just 18 years old? Surprise!

 “I’m not a Food Network Star wanna’ be,” says Wipperman. “I just want to do whatever it takes to stay in the kitchen.”

After sampling her fare I want her to stay in the kitchen too – delicious.  She’s a self-proclaimed food science geek who adores Alton Brown and is “just dipping her toes” into the pool of advanced flavor pairings. As we all know, it’s those wonderful and glorious discoveries help to keep us Chefs entranced with the world of food. Says Faith,”Once I started really cooking with duck, I found an entirely new plane of joy.” See what I mean?

Faith admits that her life hasn’t always been easy. “There were good times and bad. I’ve had a lot of challenges and changes in my life and those things are part of me.” Just as she chooses to rise each morning with that signature grin, she’s made informed choices, set a course and stuck to it. Now, she is reaping the benefits of her spirit. When many her age are still trying to figure out on which side of the fence to sit, Faith built her own fence and added a gate.

She’s forthright and confident and a little disquieting if you’re not prepared for her sincerity, intelligence and poise. She’s got a great handshake and looks you in the eye when she talks with you. That’s a big deal with someone who just recently earned the right to vote.  

After a quick tour of the kitchen and the gardens, we took a table in the dining room and were served some Wipperman especialities: Duck Soup with Warm Beet Salad; Pan Seared Scallops over Rissotto with a Vermouth Butter Sauce; and White Truffles filled with Crème Brulee and Raspberries.  Perfection!

With all that she’s overcome and accomplished in her young life, I wondered where the girl was. Eighteen years of age, running Saute at a serious, high end restaurant, graduating with a 4.3 from High School at age 16, completing ACI with aplomb and winning the ACFAZ 2009 Student Chef of the Year; I asked who she strived to please – her mom and dad.  Well, whatta’ ya know? 

When asked her goals and plans for the future, she stepped right up and said, “I’m holding those cards close to my chest for now, thank you.

” Whatever she decides to do with her life, rest assured that it will be her decision, well planned, passionate and executed with a smile. Atta’ Girl!!

 

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