Favorite Local Chefs in the Valley!
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When we discuss favorite restaurants, we talk about the restaurant as a whole. It makes sense. Any business – especially a restaurant – is only as good as its weakest link. Receive lousy service, and it doesn’t matter how good the food is. Pick up a dirty utensil, and you wonder what else isn’t clean. When everything clicks, however, there’s one person more responsible for that success than any other.
The executive chef creates the whole menu, from writing descriptions to finding an appropriate price. Every ingredient must be readily available and in-season. They have to make sure the dishes can be prepared and executed efficiently. The executive chef also needs to balance between guest favorites and keeping up with creative trends. If a public relations opportunity happens at 6 a.m., they’re there with a sample dish – likely prepared at 4 a.m.
Notice I haven’t even mentioned cooking the food yet.
I was recently asked who my favorite chefs in the Valley are. I rattled off 8-to-10 off the top of my head. With everything they do, I wanted to show some love to some of my favorite chefs in the Valley in a bit more detail.
With Contreras leading the kitchen and bar manager/mixologist Will Simpson behind the bar, Sonata’s has put together quite the team. Since joining Sonata’s, he has refined Sonata’s menu. It now includes a broader swath of European dishes, but still has the Eastern European signatures that put them on the map in their first year.
Must-have dish: Tagliatelle Bolognese
Check out our video review of Sonata’s Restaurant for more info:
Visit Sonata’s Restaurant‘s directory listing for more info.
Joey Maggiore – Hash Kitchen/The Sicilian Butcher
It’s difficult to pick a favorite quality of Maggiore’s. After you’ve met him once, you feel you’re a part of the family. Can cannoli pancakes be considered a quality? What about meatballs? If so, my decision just got much easier. The best personality can’t compare to those two dishes. We’ll call it a tie.
Must-have dish: Tomaso’s Sicilian Meatballs
Check out our video review of Hash Kitchen for more info:
Chris Nicosia – Sassi
I worked with Nicosia for almost three years. The reason I know about all the tasks above is from watching him handle all of them – and so much more – with grace and a dedication to excellence. Chef (he’ll always be chef to me) also taught me the term “death-row dish,” which I use to this day. Since ours – his mom’s veal scaloppine – isn’t currently on the menu…
Must-have dish: Iberico “Bellota” pork chop
For more info, visit sassi.biz.
Justin Piazza – La Piazza Al Forno/La Piazza PHX
There was a time when Piazza had the best-kept secret in the West Valley. Then Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives showed up, and the secret was out. Quite a few years and a second, downtown location later, he is still putting out my absolute favorite pizza of any style in Arizona. Specifically, the first pie I ever had there is the same pizza Piazza says first-timers must try when eating at one of his places, the Must-have dish: “The Italian Stallion.”
For more info, visit them online.
If you ask what sets Russo apart, the first thing that comes to mind is her versatility. Delicate, light dishes; heavy pastas, or grilled items – she can handle them all. The other thing that comes to mind is her dedication to all things local. Even products that you don’t think can come from Arizona. If they are good quality, Russo finds them and finds a place for them in the restaurant.
Must-have dish: Ricotta gnocchi
Check out our video review of The Market by Jennifer’s for more info:
Visit The Market‘s directory listing for more info.
It was difficult to limit the list to just five. I’m lucky to know some fantastic culinarians from working in and writing about restaurants. Do you have a favorite chef? Someone whose food and personality is criminally underrated? Let us know in the comments.
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Find Tony Pontecorvo online at @disguyyy