Binkley's Restaurant
Published July/August 2013

A Recipe for Success

James Beard award recognition is among the key ingredients for these Arizona chefs

BYCheryl Alters Jamison
Did you know that a select few chefs get to walk the red carpet just like actors at the Academy Awards? And, that the especially fortunate among them receive beribboned medallions as sought after as those of Olympic athletes? Each May the James Beard Foundation’s annual chef and restaurant awards bestow immense prestige on chefs, restaurants, and other industry-related categories to winners from around the country. And for more than two decades Arizona chefs have garnered this recognition for their efforts within the industry.
 
The James Beard Legacy
James Beard, born in 1903, dominated the budding American food scene during the mid-decades of the 20th century. He preached the message of simple, fresh American ingredients and dishes back when most of the country was captivated by TV dinners. Beard worked as a chef, restaurateur, cooking school instructor, author of many groundbreaking books on American food, and mentor to many of today’s top chefs. Beard’s West Greenwich Village townhouse was a hive of culinary activity, and after his death in 1985, Chef Julia Child led a far-sighted effort to purchase the residence. As such, the James Beard Foundation was started as a nonprofit means of funding the house and, initially, to host a series of dinners created by leading culinary talent. 
 
An invitation to cook at the Beard House has become the chef’s equivalent to a musician’s invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall. The foundation now hosts more than 250 events at the house annually and has raised millions to fund culinary scholarships. The awards that bear Beard’s name were first presented in 1991. Like the James Beard Foundation itself, the awards have grown colossally in esteem. More than a thousand experts in the culinary field, including previous winners, cast votes, and the awards are presented in a glittering ceremony at New York’s Lincoln Center. 
 
Ten regional awards go to chefs of distinction, including Best Chef Southwest. Chefs in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah (and for a time, Nevada) all vie for this regional title. Nine Arizona chefs have claimed this top prize, six of whom are working in the state now, and another half-dozen have made it as far as semifinalist rounds — still a huge honor and accomplishment.
 
Southwestern Culinary Pioneers
In the early years, when culinary talent was scarcer, awards weren’t necessarily given by region. Vincent Guerithault, of Vincent’s on Camelback, for instance, received a Best Chefs in America designation back in 1993. The voters knew what they were talking about. Chef Vincent still runs his original flagship, where classic French fare with Southwestern accents has been the theme since the beginning. He’s maintained it so well that it pops up on Beard’s national Outstanding Restaurant semi-finalists lists year after year, too. Vincent’s is now an empire on Camelback, with a French café, a casual pizza and salad spot, and catering business called, of course, Vincent Van Go. Additionally, Vincent’s hosts a wildly popular Saturday Camelback Market, brimming with local vegetables and greens, many food vendors, music, and more.
 
Christopher Gross became the first official Arizona-based Best Chef Southwest in 1995. He’s still at work in Phoenix, most recently with Christopher’s Restaurant and Crush Lounge, both sleek spaces in Biltmore Fashion Park. Smoked, truffle-infused filet mignon and the striking Chocolate Tower, featured in a Julia Child cookbook and TV show, are staples in the restaurant. Crush offers more casual, fun fare like lamb “lollipops” with mint pesto and Moroccan-scented lamb merguez sausage pigs in a blanket. 

View AZ James Beard Chefs in a larger map

Market Street Kitchen
Market Street Kitchen
Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
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