By Alison Bailin Batz
Not all of Arizona’s business leaders do said leading from the board room or operating table. Some of our state’s most deliciously interesting leaders, in fact, do their best work in the kitchen. As a result, over the past five years, the Arizona culinary scene and restaurant industry have started gaining national momentum. We recently sat down with several top chefs to see how they got here – and what inspired them in the first place.
Justin Beckett of Beckett’s Table and Southern Rail
When I was in eighth grade, I held my first job as a dishwasher/prep and fresh pasta maker. I would count down the hours until school was over and then run to the restaurant. The cooks would get slammed with orders while Elvis Costello sang to us on the radio. Four days after graduating high school, I was in culinary school in San Francisco.
Jeremy Pacheco of LON’s at the Hermosa Inn
I started washing dishes at the Sheraton El Conquistador in Tucson so I could earn enough money to buy my first car. Before long, I was cooking at the steak house there and it got in my blood. I didn’t even know there was a school for cooking at the time, so I did a little research and found the Scottsdale Culinary Institute.
Lisa Dahl of Dahl Restaurant Group
At 15, I fell in love with vegetarian creations, many that I still make today. My first kitchen job in Bloomington, Indiana is where I learned the art of Mediterranean cuisine. After losing my only son, I chose Sedona as a place to heal and began cooking professionally again with the inception of Dahl & Di Luca nearly 20 years ago.
Chuck Kazmer of the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale Troon North
I always had a knack for cooking. My dad actually supported me, telling me, “At least you’ll never go hungry, Chuck.” My first real kitchen job was for the Four Seasons in Austin, while I was in culinary school, where I worked as an apprentice for more than three years.
Michael Rusconi of Rusconi’s American Kitchen
I grew up in the kitchen watching my grandmother create some of her time-honored dishes and that’s originally what sparked my interest in being a chef. When I was in my teens, I started bussing tables at restaurants in Chicago and eventually decided I wanted to make the industry my career so I enrolled in culinary school after high school, and I have not looked back!
Russel LaCasce of Hotel Valley Ho
When I was 13, I got my start washing dishes at a tiny seafood restaurant on the beach in Charleston before heading to Utah to start my career in earnest. Ready to get serious, I moved to the Valley in 2006 to attend the Arizona Culinary Institute.