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January 28, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Culinary Ambassadors

  |   Video
  • Five Arizona chefs have been given the “Ripe Award” at an event at the Phoenix Art Museum. The award requires them to represent Arizona food culture to the rest of the nation and world in 2014. Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri, who has served as the president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association, will talk about the awards and the mission of the awards. Joining him are Chefs Justin Beckett of Beckett’s Table, and Gio Osso of Vitru, both 2014 “Ripe Award” winners.
  • Steve Chucri - Supervisor, Maricopa County
  • Chefs Justin Beckett - Chef, Beckett’s Table
  • Gio Osso - Chef, Vitru
Category: Community   |   Keywords: community, arizona, chefs, food, culture, phoenix, art, museum, awards,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll hear from local chefs recently named as ambassadors for Arizona's food culture. And we'll see the results of a program that sent artists on a three-day trek down the Verde River. Those stories next, on "Arizona Horizon."

Narrator: Support is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The state Republican party's censure of Arizona senator John McCain over the weekend may have backfired. McCain tells the Associated Press that following the censure, he is, quote, more seriously considering another run for the senate in 2016. The party censured McCain for not being conservative enough. McCain blames the action so what he describes as extremists in the party. And a state senator has come up with an idea for hundreds of thousands of private dollars raised to build a border fence that has yet to break ground. Senator bob Worsley says he'd like to use that money plus another $30 million to monitor the border with cameras. Worsley says that not only would the effort be separate from any federal action, it could also be used to verify federal efforts to seal the border. Five local chefs were recently honored for representing Arizona food culture to the rest of the nation and the world. Joining us now to talk more about the Ripe Awards and why these particular chefs were honored is Steve Chucri, a Maricopa County supervisor who has served as a president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association. Also with us are Ripe Award winners, chefs Gio Osso of Vitru, and Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table. It's good to have you all here. Thank you so much for joining us. The Ripe Awards, Steve, what are we talking about here?

Steve Chucri: We're talking about acknowledging Arizona's finest chefs that we have in the state, and it's exciting for me as the head of the Arizona Restaurant Association, because these two gentlemen that are with us tonight tried -- they exhibit what we're trying to accomplish. Arizona just last week was named the fastest growing state in 2014 for a restaurant sales growth. That means we're number one. Restaurants are going to boom in 2014 in Arizona. And it's because of in my estimation, the fine work these two gentlemen do.

Ted Simons: The mission of the awards you would say is what?

Steve Chucri: I think it's recognizing the true talent in our industry. Chefs as Justin and Gio can attest, to back in the day they used to be known for masters of the kitchen. But now they're not only masters of the kitchen but their P&L. You're seeing that through virtue of their growth. Justin's got a second location he's opening, so that's the first time we've seen that in Arizona, and really in many ways in the industry. So what the Ripe Awards is doing, it's acknowledging those chefs that kind of are a cut above. That no pun intended, that are making that difference in our culinary variety for the state.

Ted Simons: And Gio, your restaurant, I've seen reviews, I've read some really good things about this. Do you feel, though, that you are representing Arizona food culture?

Gio Osso: Yes, absolutely. As an ambassador, like you said, which is the first time I heard that, that's pretty cool. I think we are. Arizona became -- Is a melting pot, just like a major city. And we're really bringing everything to the table now. There's so much variety, there's so much talent in the city. It's definitely one of the powerhouse cities now.

Ted Simons: Where were you from originally?

Gio Osso: I was from the way far left coast of Italy called New Jersey.

Ted Simons: OK. So you got your New York, New Jersey area, your restaurants, food culture there. Compare to what you're seeing growing here.

Gio Osso: Oh, it's almost on the same level. We're getting close. We're getting to that level. I think Arizona, Phoenix specifically is becoming a major, major food market you can consider alongside New York, Chicago, San Francisco, some of these really big food cities.

Ted Simons: Are we getting there, Justin?

Justin Beckett: I hope so. We're trying. We're trying very hard. I think what's really impressive is that the people that are taking the risks and the people doing it are people like us and people who have been given a chance maybe in the down economy a little bit, with a couple benefits for being able to get into a place for a little bit more affordable rents or things like that, but we're not relying on the chains to provide the future of culinary. We're relying on our peers, our chefs just like us.

Ted Simons: You're talking about taking risks. I know you're from the Bay Area. Is it easier to take a risk here as opposed to New York, New Jersey, or the Bay Area?

Justin Beckett: I think a risk is a risk. No matter where you take it. My family, my kids' college tuition is all in the restaurant. It's all up on the stake. But I think that there might be a slightly larger spotlight maybe in some of these larger cities right now, but I really think that every time we open another great restaurant, like Southern Rail, our next one, every time we do that we're that much closer to being recognized as a culinary destination.

Ted Simons: Over the years what have you seen as far as that culinary destination aspect? Are we getting better?

Steve Chucri: I think it's night and day. As someone who was and raised in this state, we had Mexican food and a different kind of Mexican food. Today it's not the case. You've got Vitru, you've got Beckett's Table, you've got southern rail coming down, Sam Fox has an enormous array of restaurants. You've got independents that I think for the first time feel -- Truly feel comfortable taking that risk or pushing the envelope when it comes to the creative side of their menu. And that's what's making Arizona I think it's putting us on the map. In that the diversity we've seen in some cases we haven't even seen certain cuisines on a menu within 10 years ago, even 10 years ago. So that's what excites me as the head of an industry that I think is one of the best.

Ted Simons: Talk about the dynamic between creativity, risk taking, and good food and making sure I had a good experience when I went to your restaurant.

Gio Osso: You know, you have to be on stage every night. It's an act to a certain extent. It's like theater. I have to perform for you every, every night. And it has to be perfect every night. And what you are going to take away from it is that satisfaction of, you know, that was the best meal I've ever had. At least for that moment. That's what we're trying to do with our creativity, with making you feel comfortable, making you feel at home at the restaurant. For that two-hour experience you're going to have, I want you to leave saying, that was the best I've ever had. Until you go to the next restaurant the next night. But at least for that two hours I have you and I'm going to give you everything I can to make that special for you.

Ted Simons: Is it the best I ever had, is it I've never had this before, is it, I can't believe that they're even serving this but I find it interesting? You guys are creative, you're artists. Lots of artists say, I don't care what the audience thinks, I'm expressing myself, if you want to follow, that's good, if you don't, get out of the way. You can't necessarily do that in a restaurant.

Justin Beckett: I've been a huge proponent of give the guests what they want. I think my job is to surprise them or make them stretch that bubble just a little bit. You come in and say I only eat chicken. I'm not going to give you tuna. I'm going to give you chicken but in a special way, I'm going to roast it with these flavors, stuff it with that, so I want to stretch your imagination, I want to make I almost uncomfortable but I want you to enjoy it and get what you asked for.

Ted Simons: And I think we're looking at some of the dishes -- I believe this is from your restaurant?

Justin Beckett: Yeah, those are cast-iron roasted enchiladas stuffed with some wonderful avocado and lobster, and fresh corn, and little chunks of potatoes.

Ted Simons: My goodness. When you come up with that dish and this dish and others that we'll be looking at, what goes through your mind? Have you had something before, you think I want to use this, I want to use that? Is it something that you just come out with? What works here? Creative process.

Justin Beckett: I think inspiration comes from every moment of life. As a dress maker goes down the street and sees a flower or color they want to make the fabric, whatever turns into this dress, for me it really stems from being in the kitchen with the rest of the team, and bantering back and forth, hey, let's make a lollipop out of this, that. A lot of times I joke, but a lot of food comes from a candy bar, or a bite you had once that you wouldn't think turns into something totally different. A lot of our menu dishes come from inspirations and conversations in the kitchen.

Ted Simons: Gio, we have shots of your food as well. Is it a collaborative process? Are you the boss and everyone's got to follow? How does that work?

Gio Osso: No, it's always a collaborative effort. My two sous chefs, we work together really hard at creating the menu, that's our oxtail with morels. We talk about it all the time. It could be a childhood memory, a smell from you walk outside and you smell something and it reminds you of something.

Ted Simons: And if let's say what we're seeing right now, I had this, and I somehow get the message -- I didn't like that. I wasn't crazy about that. How much does a chef take that kind of response? You don't hear about that much, but if someone comes back and says, I wasn't crazy about it. How do you factor that in?

Gio Osso: Well, just like any other art, it's a matter of opinion. To a certain person, whether it's a food critic, a movie reviewer or something like that. It's a matter of opinion. So we can't please everyone, but we can try.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned food critics, and I kind of blundered into that part about people not being happy about the food, but you know what happens, is Arizona rising to the sophistication, are we at the sophistication, to where these two gentlemen know they'll have a steady clientele?

Ted Simons: We are. We have roughly 500 restaurants in the state, our population growth is still happening, we expect that food industry in Arizona will lead job growth for the next 10 years, to almost a whopping 16 percent. Is there an oversaturation? I think in some markets there is, but I think in the Phoenix metro area, as you start to go to the other parts of the state, Tucson and the like, you see restaurants being well thought out. You see the homework being done. When that happens, that breeds success. And so we expect more of it, and I think with the two chefs we have here tonight, I think they're a great example of what is yet to come, to continue to come I should say.

Ted Simons: Back to the food culture aspect, Justin, could you -- Could you put -- Present the food that you have now on your menu, if you were back in San Francisco, if you were in Iowa, if you were in New York? Is the food different because you are here?

Justin Beckett: That's an interesting question. Yeah, I have a lot of friends back at home in San Francisco and they come down and eat and they're like you've got to open one of these in the City! You've got to get back to San Francisco. For me, I always felt maybe we were a bigger fish in a smaller pond here, but I think that perception is changing. And I really believe that if you take food that's thoughtful and done well, and it doesn't have to be super fancy or super cheap, it can be somewhere in the middle, and you present it well with a thoughtful attitude and -- we call it the invisible hug. You walk into a restaurant, you're getting embraced. You're feeling cared for. If you can do that, it doesn't matter the expense or the style of food or the complexity of the food, as long as it's thought out and done well, you will succeed, and you will do very well in whatever city you're in.

Ted Simons: Gio, your menu could apply here, Seattle, Chicago, Miami? Or is it -- Is there something about your menu and your restaurant that is Arizona specific?

Gio Osso: Well, I think the menu, food wise, I think it could work in any city. But the intimacy of the restaurant I have right now, the space I have, being inside the Bespoke Inn, it has this charm about it. That would be really difficult to duplicate in another city, so it would have to be a different style of restaurant. But the food would work.

Ted Simons: All right. And we're taking a look at it right now. Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us. Continued success, and thank you so much for sharing your food thoughts with us on "Arizona Horizon."

All: Thank you.

Verde River Artwork

  |   Video
  • Last April, 25 artists were sent by the Verde Valley Land Preservation organization on a 3-day, 2-night kayaking and camping tour down a 10-mile stretch of the Verde River. Artwork inspired from that trip is now a traveling exhibition that is currently at the State Capitol Executive Tower lobby. Steve Estes of Verde Valley Land Preservation and one of the participating artists Joanne Agostinelli, will discuss the effort and resulting artwork.
  • Steve Estes - Verde Valley Land Preservation
  • Joanne Agostinelli - Artist
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: the arts, artists, camping, kayaking, tour, organization, verde valley,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Last April the Verde valley land preservation organization sent a group of artists on a kayaking and camping trip down a stretch of the Verde River. Artwork inspired by the trip is now a traveling exhibition and is currently on display at the state capitol executive tower lobby. Joining to us talk about all this is Steve Estes, of Verde valley land preservation and one of the participating ash 'tises, Joanne Agostinelli. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Joanne Aostinelli: Thanks.

Steve Estes: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Verde Valley Land Preservation, what exactly is that?

Steve Estes: In short we're all about preserving open space. Open space exists in many forms in Arizona, it's preserved in many forms in Arizona, federal government preserves open space, the state government preserves open space. We're interested in preserving the private open spaces as well and making that work with those others. And open space is all about in Arizona as much about water as it is anything.

Ted Simons: Indeed. And a river runs through us, what was that all about?

Steve Estes: This was an inspiration from one of our artists, Wendy Hartford, she had seen this done elsewhere, and up in British Columbia, so similar kind of a thing, it was to challenge a bunch of artists to get out there and create art for a good purpose. And the Walton family foundation has been working with us for some time, I have five projects I'm working on, this is one of them, and when we pitched this to them, this was probably the most exciting thing that they've done in a long, long time. This really spoke to them. So that's how it got started. We juried in 25 artists. We looked at their work, we asked them to submit work and the idea is that they would go down the river with us, camp, get to know each other, have an experience, and be inspired to make great art and to donate it to us for the purpose of ultimately taking it all around the state, and ultimately selling the originals in an online auction.

Ted Simons: Jo, why did you want to participate in this?

Joanne Aostinelli: This was a no-brainer. I live about a quarter mile from the Verde River. Moving water and reflection and all that kind of thing has always been a part of my artwork. When I heard about this, I jumped at the chance. And I thought it was just the perfect opportunity, both because this fit in with the kind of art I already do, and also because I haven't lived in Arizona that long, and the chance to just meet some other artists and get to share this adventure with them was a great thing.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, you've got 25 artists, 10-mile trip down the Verde river, three days, two nights, kayaking, camping. Did you drive each other nuts or did you all get a chance to separate and do your own thing with your art?

Joanne Aostinelli: It was more a communal experience. We were sharing the experience. There wasn't a whole lot of time to actually create art, though we did have some time, so it was more absorbing it. Taking reference photographs, whatever we needed so we could capture that and use it in our art.

Ted Simons: Is that what you found happened the most, people didn't work right there, they said --

Joanne Aostinelli: Although some did.

Ted Simons: They basically took it with them and used that inspiration at a later date?

Steve Estes: Exactly. We set a time frame for them to be able to produce this art. And it was a pretty decent time frame, I think about 90 days or more. But we did have a deadline, and then people summited by those deadlines and we were astounded by the quality of the art that came from this.

Ted Simons: And Jo, I think we have some of your work. You mentioned water is a big deal for you. And it is a big deal as far as this work is concerned. What is it, a business called Crest and Surge, I believe, what is it about water that moves you?

Joanne Aostinelli: A lot of the work I've done basically sort of refines the environment into the basic elements. Water, earth, air, and I've even done fire. I just want to feel that living pulse in those elements of the earth. And with water, yeah, I just want it to seem alive and vibrant, and just communicate to other people the feeling that I have about it.

Ted Simons: The trip itself, did it change your artistic vision at all?

Joanne Aostinelli: It more just flowed along with it. For me it was an opportunity to form lasting friendships with some of the other artists that were involved. So that has been a wonderful thing for me.

Ted Simons: From a distance I'm thinking, OK, this is another chance for Jo to do some work on water, but maybe taking a different look at it, maybe another artist sits out there and meditates or captures something and takes it back and changes -- Sounds to me like a social aspect was as important as anything.

Steve Estes: It was. And I would say too that the whole focus of bringing the Verde River and its beauty and its challenges and its importance to the public through the medium of art is something these artists really vibrated to. And I think they walked away feeling they've done something that they never had an opportunity to do before, with respect to what's good for our state, what's good for our environment, and what's good for the people and all other life forms that live in it.

Ted Simons: When you started the program, were you expecting to see or have a certain reaction by the artist and see their results in a certain way, and wind up with something different? Or have you been surprised by any of it?

Steve Estes: We were totally surprised.

Ted Simons: How so?

Steve Estes: Some things we got, we got 3D pieces, we got a sea serpent, we got all kinds of things. We got things that are very, very abstract. That speak in a language that you could never, ever understand until you saw that piece. And what that might mean to you with respect to what's going on inside this river or with -- About this river.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, did anything surprise you? We're looking at other artists, anything surprise you out of all this?

Joanne Aostinelli: Because I've worked in the art field for long enough, I'm just always overwhelmed with the diversity, and how everyone has a completely different approach to the same subject matter. So that's always surprising. And fun. And we're able to inspire each other with that.

Ted Simons: And the Verde River is especially important to you, or moving water in general?

Joanne Aostinelli: Well, now that I live here and I live so close to it, that's where I walk. That's where I recreate. That's -- It's an important part of my life. It's what makes this valley so beautiful.

Ted Simons: Is this the first year you've done this particular program?

Steve Estes: Yes, it is. We're not anticipating doing another one--

Ted Simons: There's the dragon. All right.

Steve Estes: However, this has inspired another aspect we're moving into right now, we're promoting right now. We're taking policymakers on the river. The elected officials and emerging leaders in our community, all from both sides of the mountain, everybody that impacts the Verde river, and we're taking them out in April. And we've got some very well-known experts who are going to be presenting around the campfire. And then we're going to start a conversation with these folks with the emerging leaders and the present leaders and follow up some months later and find out what they've done. The idea is to have policy continuity across the many jurisdictions that influence the river.

Ted Simons: Again, that kind of reminds me of something I wanted to ask. That is, describe the day. Do you float, stop and have a lunch, float, stop and draw a dragon? I mean, what happens out there?

Steve Estes: Well, Jo --

Joanne Aostinelli: They gave us a nice variety of activities, so we would paddle part of the day, stop, they fed us very well, and then there were -- We had archaeological tours of some ruins, we had someone lead a birding expedition, some photography; a little of everything, just all the things that would spark us and help feed into our creativity, and enrich the experience.

Ted Simons: Here I am thinking everyone had a chance to plop down an easel --

Joanne Aostinelli: We had one afternoon to do that.

Ted Simons: And what did you do?

Joanne Aostinelli: I just did some sketches. I work mostly in pastel but I brought some charcoal and colored pencils and did some reference things I could look back on later.

Ted Simons: As an artist, the pace of that kind of day as compared to a regular day you might have in your studio or at your home, they differ all that much?

Joanne Aostinelli: That kind of immersion is something I try to do periodically. I've done residencies in national parks where you're in the park for several weeks, and can really just absorb everything. And this was that kind of an experience. Much different from oh, I think I'll just do -- Work on this theme or this series in my studio. It's that kind of really immersion that you need to feed your artwork. So it's the kind of thing I need to do periodically for sure.

Ted Simons: OK. So we had Jo describe the day. Now back to you describing a day. If you had policymakers out there, what kind of itinerary would you have?

Steve Estes: We're going to float them down the river, get them outside their comfort zones, yet them wet, we're going to get them cold. We're going to get them angry. We're going to get them thinking about what this river really means. In the Verde Valley, I don't know if you've noticed but it's hard to see the river unless you're on it. You can go over it many times but you don't see it because the foliage is great and there's a lot of -- It's a forest that follows the river. So yeah, that's what we're going to do. We're going to get them outside their comfort zone. I do want to mention, Sedona Adventure Tours did a great job with this, and we had an award-winning videographer. We have hours of video that's outstanding.

Ted Simons: Is that on the website?

Steve Estes: Yes, it is actually. We have a 10-minute piece, it was a final -- A finished piece, beautiful.

Ted Simons: Give us that website address.

Steve Estes:

Ted Simons: OK. Jo, last question for you. What do you want your art to say about the Verde?

Joanne Aostinelli: Just to inspire people to want to preserve it. I want that river to be there for the rest of my lifetime, and for many generations to come. So we need people to engage in that.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. We'll stop it there. Good discussion. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Both: Our pleasure. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon," we'll have our weekly legislative update with the "Arizona Capitol Times." And we debut "Southern Exposure," a new "Arizona Horizon" segment focusing on issues affecting Tuscon and southern Arizona. That's tomorrow, 5:30 and 10 right here on the next "Arizona Horizon."

That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.