Ever take a bite of a vodkacured salmon or a saffron fettuccine and wonder who was the creative force behind the entree? Satisfy your curiosity at the Scottsdale Festival, which continues Thursday through Sunday.
Now in its 27th year, the festival brings together inquisitive diners and the creative minds who stir, sauté and bake their favorite entrees at a variety of events.
Cooks & Corks will feature demonstrations by Valley chefs including Charles Wiley of the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale and Jagger Griffin of Furio, on Saturday and Sunday.
The public gets to "taste something they wouldn’t be exposed to and achieve a heightened level of awareness," Wiley says. "What’s so fun about an event like Cooks & Corks is, the guests come up and actually talk to the chef who works in the kitchen."
These conversations might entail asking about the secret ingredient in a favorite entree or a particular chef’s philosophy on organic vegetables or fishing.
"I get to meet my guests and I get a sense of what they’re looking for and what they like," Wiley says. The crowd "is split between the folks who’ve never been to my restaurant and the folks who’ve been there one or 20 times and come to pay their respects."
elements, Cafe Zuzu, Trader Vic’s
The man responsible for elements restaurant at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley fought his talent for cooking until he was 21.
"It was such hard work and it was so low on the totem pole," says Wiley, executive chef at the soon-to-open Hotel Valley Ho. "Back then there was no Food Network. It was hard to get a copy of a Gourmet magazine."
In 1976, Wiley finally succumbed to his passion and began taking classes at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Subsequently he headed to Alaska, where he studied baking and pastries.
"When you’re 21 and not married, you go where the wind kind of blows you," Wiley says. "And I was intrigued by the whole Alaska pipeline thing."
Wiley arrived in the Valley in 1988 and has been the executive chef at the Boulders Resort in Carefree, Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain and is now overseeing the opening of Hotel Valley Ho’s Cafe ZuZu and Trader Vic’s. Named one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine, he uses local ingredients in his menus.
In his own kitchen Wiley says he can’t get enough produce.
"I love to coax the most flavor out of vegetables," Wiley says. "It all tastes unique."
Furio, Salty Señorita
Jagger Griffin isn’t ashamed to talk about his first restaurant job.
"Yes, I worked at Denny’s," says the executive chef of Furio in Scottsdale.
"There are people who always laugh at me and tell me not to mention it, but I loved it."
Griffin, who was 16, says it wasn’t the food he enjoyed, but the fast pace required to prepare 150 orders on his own.
"I learned about organization and I learned about speed," he says. "You can’t be slow."
After two years at Denny’s, Griffin graduated from high school and decided to get serious about cooking.
He enrolled in culinary school in Vermont. He came to Arizona after culinary school, attracted not so much by the job as the weather.
"I ride a motorcycle," he says. "I was tired of getting wet and I thought Arizona would be the perfect place."
Griffin started as an intern at Vincent on Camelback in Phoenix and eventually ran the kitchens of Eddie Matney’s and Christopher’s, both also in Phoenix.
He still oversees Anthem Restaurant Group eateries, including Furio and the Salty Señorita restaurants.