In the September issue of Arizona Foothills Magazine, we unveiled the top 11 chefs in the Valley based on votes by dozens of most talented local culinary luminaries. Here, we reveal each chef’s complete Q & A. Get to know chef Cullen Campbell of Crudo.
Has the culinary arts always been your passion?
Actually, my first passion was photography. When I was 18, I started watching chefs like Emeril on the Food Network. My fascination with such programs and role models lead to me discovering my love for the culinary arts. Once I graduated high school, I knew that I needed to be in the kitchen, so I began to look for cooking jobs.
Tell me about your first culinary job?
My first job was at Mantias in Memphis, a little Mediterranean b.y.o.b. with an attached cheese shop. I started as a dishwasher, and then moved up to prep cook and ran the cold appetizer station. Alice, the owner, took a leap of faith hiring me because I had no experience. She was like a second mother to me and was the one who taught me the most about cheese. Even though it was small, there were always at least 120 cheeses in stock at one time. It was here where I found my favorite cheese: Fleur de Marquis.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Creating the menu. This process gets my creative juices flowing as well as serves as a point of reflection where I can look back on some of my most loved dishes. The process of creating the menu is considered a success when I can watch our guests truly enjoy their dish.
What is your tastiest dish?
The Squid Ink Risotto. Often squid ink is used for shock value but here the dish encompasses so many flavors and textures such as sweetness from the tomatoes, a creaminess and touch of heat with a subtle saltiness and brightness from the basil. Despite the diversity present within this dish it is able to deliver an overall balance of each texture and flavor.
What are your thoughts on the Valley’s dining scene?
As a chef and restaurant owner, the progress over the past 10 years has been really inspiring. With the community really getting behind the local food movement, more and more chefs are pushing limits and working with out-of-the-norm ingredients. Whether it’s from our own local farmers or distributors, we’ve unearthed a new supply chain for unique ingredients in the Valley.
What inspires your dishes?
My dishes are influenced by my travels around the world, my favorite cookbooks, and interesting ingredients.
How do you keep creative in the kitchen?
I constantly research new techniques and exciting ingredients from around the world to stay sharp and creative.
Photo by Cassandra Tomei
Click here to get to know another one one of the Valley’s Top Chef, Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco.