The Clever Root

Spring / Summer 2016

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Historically, Southwestern cuisine has been sub-divided into three regional camps: the Hatch chile driven dishes of New Mexico; Tex-Mex's foray into the wonders of shredded cheese and chili con carne; and Arizona's beef-focused machacha "burros," deep-friend chimichangas and flat, crunchy takes on the clas- sic quesadilla, fittingly and simply called cheese crisps. While these regional cuisines continue as strong mainstays, the Sonoran desert has blossomed into an oasis of lush golf courses, massive resorts and world-class shopping, and as the desert landscape changes, so does the culinary culture. Now, there's a single-source coffee roaster next door to the hole-in-the-wall burro stand; farmer's markets pop up on the outskirts of Downtown Phoenix; and Arizo- na's grown a cocktail scene even the snootiest New York cocktailian couldn't snub. And when it comes to ingredients, Arizona's a locovore's dream. Citruses, hearty greens, beans, corn and tomatoes all thrive in Southern Arizona, and real- life cowboys roam desert cattle ranches. But, of course, Arizona's four-month-long scorcher of a summer takes its toll, so producers have to adopt. In the heart of Phoenix, Abby Lee Farms operates a three-acre polyhouse, where they can pro- duce a staggering 40,000 pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers a week—no matter how many days in a row of 100-plus-degree temperatures. "The Arizona terroir can be a challenge for our grower partners," admits Brad Brunin, Executive Chef at Scottsdale's True Food Kitchen, one of the flagship locations for the expanding restaurant concept. "In the summer, we definitely see the least amount of product coming from our local farms, but the rest of the year, when its not so hot, Arizona's just up there with California in terms of quality produce production." Arizona's proximity to its more temperate sister to the west gives Brunin another leg on up securing the best, freshest, most seasonal ingredients possible: "Even our seafood is local," he begins, before stopping himself to clarify. "Well, the ocean is obviously not in Arizona, but we work with a fisherman who owns two boats in Coronado. He drives out fresh albacore and mahi mahi every day, and it's here in the morning. The same fish that every restaurant in Santa Monica and San Francisco get, we get. We just get it four hours later," he laughs. At True Food Kitchen, Brunin and his team have a "strictly seasonal" mentality: "Our staples, like the kale salad, are made from products we buy year-round. But now that it's spring, we're very ingredient-based. If you think spring, you think green: green veggies, English peas, leafy greens, asparagus, strawberries, blueber- ries . . . Spring is great!" Availability of produce aside, for Brunin, seasonality is all about maximizing the taste and nutritional value of ingredients, "If you eat food at the right time, in the correct season, you're going to get the most nutrients and the best flavor," he says. "And really, that's just the right thing to do." Sustainability is also high on Brunin's list of "right things," and he takes a personal pride in producing as little waste in the kitchen as possible. "We're creating our own sustainable environment by using every part of the mush- room, and by using specific ingredients in as many ways as possible," he says, pointing to honey and sibu as super-powered ingredients that make their way onto the plate and into the glass at the bar. Another "right thing?" Don't expect any complaints from the True Food Kitchen prep cooks as they're peeling hundreds of pounds of shrimp and shucking endless English peas by hand. "We spend the time doing these things because it's the right thing to do, and that comes across in the dish." With Arizona chefs painting a culinary landscape centered around fresh, local ingre- dients, there's plenty to explore. Making a trip to the Phoenix Metro area? Check out some of The Clever Root's picks for places to drink, dine and discover! Sustainably-caught sea bass is featured on the spring menu at True Food Kitchen in Scottsdale, AZ. PHOTO COURTESY OF TRUE FOOD KITCHEN Brad Brunin is the Executive Chef at True Food Kitchen in Scottsdale, AZ. PHOTO COURTESY OF TRUE FOOD KITCHEN 8 8 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t

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