By Gwen Ashley Walters | APRIL 14, 2014 | NEWS & NIBBLES

Delectable news for the food-obsessed, especially those who live in Phoenix, Arizona. The Killer Dish, a food blog focused on exceptional restaurant dishes around the Valley, is set to launch tomorrow.

The man behind the blog is Dominic Armato, a Phoenix-based food blogger whose former food blog, Skillet Doux, was named a finalist in the 2011 SAVEUR magazine food blog awards. Skillet Doux was also named Best Food Blog in Phoenix by the Phoenix New Times in 2012.

Armato set Skillet Doux aside at the end of 2012 to develop the Phoenix-based food community discussion board, Phoenix Food Nerds, which boasts nearly 500 members. Now that the discussion board is up and actively running, Armato decided the time was right to re-enter blogging.

The Killer Dish came about because Armato noticed an angle in the Valley’s dining media coverage that he thought was lacking.

“It’s about the dish,” Armato says, “And everything that goes into making it a great dish.”

The Killer Dish should appeal to anyone who likes to dine out, not just hard-core, restaurant junkies. Each post will cover only one dish: who is making it, how it’s made, and, if pertinent, why it’s made the way it is. Armato aims to provide an educational slant on top of drool-inducing photos and mouth-watering descriptions.

One of the first posts is a Gilfeather rutabaga dish from the award-winning restaurant, FnB. Armato interviewed James Beard nominated chef/owner Charleen Badman about how the dish came about and how she makes it, and then goes on to write about the historical context of the heirloom root vegetable.

Posts are short enough to digest easily, but long enough to fill the belly. Other posts will feature notable dishes from ethnic restaurants, a particular love interest of Armato’s. Readers can join the conversation, too, by recommending favorite dishes they’d like the blog to cover. Over time, Armato plans to expand the geographical coverage of dishes as he travels to other parts of the country and even abroad.

“My hope is it pushes people to think about what makes a dish great rather than simply “I like it” or “I don’t like it,” Armato says. “It’s all wrapped up in educational context.”

And that, the educational bent — not to mention solid food writing and stunning pictures — is why we are excited to follow The Killer Dish.

Blog: The Killer Dish

Twitter: @TheKillerDish

By Gwen Ashley Walters | MARCH 30, 2014 | NEWS & NIBBLES


A new food magazine is on the horizon, and I’m pretty excited about it. And if you are, too, you can contribute to the launch via a Kickstarter campaign that launches this Friday.

[UPDATE 4.4.14: The Cleaver Quarterly Kickstarter campaign is active from now until April 30.]

The Cleaver Quarterly falls more in the food journal category than traditional food magazine, as it will publish quarterly and focus on long-form food writing in a fairly narrow niche — if you can call the world of Chinese food “narrow.”

It may be a niche publication but the topics The Cleaver Quarterly will cover are diverse. In the first issue, look for:

  • A profile of David R. Chan, the man who has eaten in more than 6,000 Chinese restaurants.
  • A look at Sweet Mandarin, the UK’s “Best Local Chinese Restaurant” according to Gordon Ramsay.
  • An article on Sichuan mulled beer.
  • An infographic comparing English and Chinese recipes for Kung Pao Chicken.
  • Photo essays on Taipei night markets, Chinese chefs with their cleavers and vintage enamelware.
  • And more short and long-form stories delving into the culture of Chinese food around the globe.

The magazine comes courtesy of three experienced editors, writers and publishers. Collectively, they’ve spent more than 25 years in China.


Jonathan White (Executive Publisher) is a writer and editor who has lived in Hong Kong and Beijing, where he spent four years as the Managing Editor of a city events and listings magazine. He will put almost anything in his mouth, as long as it is spicy.

Lilly Chow (Managing Editor) has been published in Gastronomica and edited Beijing Eats: A Food Lover’s Companion to China’s Culinary Capital, an in-depth look at more than 30 regional Chinese cuisines and 140 Beijing restaurants.

Iain Shaw (Brand Director) was the Dining and Nightlife Editor of a local events and listings magazine, before moving into a social media marketing role as Director of Digital Communications & PR of Beijing-based publisher True Run Media.

From the editorial team:

“Considering the sheer variety of cuisine within China, Taiwan and Hong Kong – and how Chinese food has taken root and evolved in other countries – it’s safe to say we’ll never run out of things to cover. With our correspondents around the globe and the ambitious and idiosyncratic narratives that we intend to showcase, we’ll tell the stories behind the recipes, whether it’s the savory double-steamed soups of Jiangxi province, microbrewing in Taiwan or egg rolls in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.”

Follow @ReadTheCleaver on Twitter, and visit The Cleaver Quarterly’s Facebook page for details.

And don’t forget The Cleaver Quarterly’s Kickstarter begins Friday, April 4th.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | FEBRUARY 16, 2014 | NEWS & NIBBLES


I “retired” from teaching cooking classes in 2005, with one exception… I teach one class a year at Barbara Pool Fenzl’s (pictured above) cooking school, Les Gourmettes in Phoenix. There’s a reason I can’t quit Les Gourmettes. Actually, three reasons:

1. Barbara is the Grande Dame of Southwestern cooking in Arizona. She is the author of several authoritative cookbooks on Southwestern cooking and the host of several PBS cooking shows. She was my mentor when I launched my teaching career. She opened her school on the advice of her good friend, Julia Child, 30 years ago this year. Barbara is my “Julia.” She brings in major national talent to teach at her school each season, and she hand picks her favorite local chefs to come and teach. It’s a huge honor to be included on her roster. This will be my 12th year teaching at Les Gourmettes.

2, The school is in Barbara’s gorgeous, spacious home on Central Avenue. The kitchen is cozy, set up for an intimate experience with the guests. She only takes 15 students per class and so it’s easy to get up close and personal with the students. In fact, if you’re in the front row, you might get splattered, so use the recipe handouts as a shield (kidding, sort of).

3. The kind of people who come to Barbara’s classes are my favorite kind of people. They love food, they’re curious about cooking, and they’re eager to learn. They also want to eat delicious food after the class, and that’s my job, to make sure they had fun & learned something tangible to take home, and to give them a taste of delicious dishes they can recreate at home.

My one and only appearance at Les Gourmettes this year will be March 4 & 5. The morning class on Wednesday is already sold out, but there are 6 spots available Tuesday evening. I’m teaching a make-ahead brunch menu, perfect for Easter or Mother’s Day or just for a Spring al fresco get together with friends.

The class is is from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and costs $75. It includes a copy of the recipes, the demonstration, and a chance to dine in Barbara’s lovely dining room to share the meal and a glass of wine with the other students.

Barbara doesn’t have a website, so if you’re interested in taking the class, give her a call.

Here’s the menu, and I’ll have an amuse bouche to tide you over until we eat:

  • Scottish Oat Blueberry Flapjacks
  • Sun-dried Tomato & Pine Nut Chicken Salad
  • Lemon Mousse with Raspberry Purée
  • Poppy Seed Shortbread Cookies.

Les Gourmettes Cooking School
6610 N Central Ave
Phoenix, Arizona 85012

By Gwen Ashley Walters | NOVEMBER 20, 2013 | NEWS & NIBBLES

On Sunday, we told you a little bit about Clever Koi, the new modern Asian restaurant opening November 25.

Today we continue the story of the four first-time restaurateurs and their journey from an Italian pizza parlor to opening their own place.

(L-R) Joshua James, Jared Porter, Nicholas Campisano, Joe Absolor (photo courtesy of Clever Koi)

(L-R) Joshua James, Jared Porter, Nicholas Campisano, Joe Absolor (photo courtesy of Clever Koi)

“We love it,” Porter says, “But will it transfer from those food cities to here?”

It’s a fair question. Is Phoenix is ready for what the 105-seat Clever Koi is hoping to deliver?



General manager, Nick Campisano says, “We’re not only focused on featuring a one-of-a-kind menu and a highly-regarded cocktail program, but an overall experience that will put The Clever Koi on the culinary map.”

Campisano, who has worked in the Sam Fox restaurant group FRC, renowned for its service, is responsible for the front of the house operations.

“I’ve seen what works well and what doesn’t,” he says. Expect casual but professional service from servers “who are allowed to approach the table with their own personality.” Uniforms will be denim jeans, charcoal gray pinstriped bistro aprons and Clever Koi logo shirts.


Drinks will be traditional American cocktails with an Asian twist, says Beverage Director Joshua James. Look for Asian ingredients such as shishito leaves, plum wine, togarashi and a bar menu that includes a couple of Japanese whiskeys.

The barware is gold, a tie-in to the gold-painted tin tiles lining the bar, and a “blingy” cultural reference.


The back of the house is manned by chefs Jared Porter and Joe Absolor.

“We’re using classic techniques, so there’s classic bones to things, but we’ve intentionally spun them out so there is some familiarity, but not so classic that you’re going to get sweet & sour pork,” Porter says.

The menu is a mix of small plates (with cold and hot sections, steamed buns and dumplings), plus rice bowls, noodle bowls and family-style dinners, meant to serve 3 to 4 people. Prices will be in the $8 to $12 range, with family style meals slightly higher, in the low to mid $20 range.

Look for a Vietnamese octopus roll (marinated octopus finished on a charcoal grill) with glass noodles, mint, cilantro, and oyster sauce under the cold section, and mu shoo pork with crisp beef tendon and black garlic scallion pancakes under the hot section.

Steamed buns will include a vegetarian tempura onion rings bun with pickled pineapple, and lamb pastrami with hot pickled mustard greens and black sesame aioli. Funny thing, Absolor is a master at lamb pastrami but he’s never been a big fan of lamb — until he figured out how to cure lamb pastrami-style, and then it was love at first bite.

Dumplings will be made in house, and the dumpling station will be visible from the exterior breezeway. In fact, the whole prep kitchen in the back can be seen through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Under the dumplings section of the menu, look for beef neck ‘Shanghai style” dumplings with Chinese sausage and shiitake broth.

The Beast

Designing a kitchen from the ground up sounds like a dream for any chef, but there is always a catch. The “oops” moment for Clever Koi happens to be the chefs’ pride and joy (and destined to be the workhorse of the restaurant) an Italian-made rotisserie grill.

It took eight months for the beast from Florence to arrive and required a last minute reconfiguration in the kitchen (namely, a costly custom hood). Sometimes you just roll with the punches.

“It quickly became the most expensive piece of the restaurant construction,” Porter says. Still, he thinks it will prove worth every cent based on the production use they’ll get out of it.

To say the partners are eager to show Phoenix what they’ve been swimming toward this past year is an understatement. The Clever Koi has reached the metaphorical waterfall, and come Monday, it’s time to take the leap.

Clever Koi
4236 N. Central Ave., Phoenix

By Gwen Ashley Walters | NOVEMBER 17, 2013 | NEWS & NIBBLES


According to legend, 100 years had elapsed and no koi ever made it past the treacherous waterfall at the end of a long, arduous upstream journey. Most koi turned around without even trying. A few hundred kept swimming ahead, over and over again, to no avail. No one knows why, but one fateful day, a single koi finally leaped high enough to clear the formidable waterfall. As a reward for his dedication and perseverance, the gods turned the victorious koi into a golden dragon who spent the rest of eternity soaring high above earth, tucked safely away in the heavens.

Back on earth, four friends, who met while working in a modern Italian restaurant in Phoenix, started their own determined journey upstream a year ago. On November 25 (pending final inspections), these focused thirty-somethings will reach the waterfall they’ve been metaphorically swimming toward the past 12 months.


Photo courtesy of Clever Koi. (L-R) Joshua James, Jared Porter, Nicholas Campisano, Joe Absolor

Chefs Jared Porter and Joe Absolor, General Manager Nick Campisano, and Beverage Director Joshua James are set to open one of the most anticipated new restaurants in Phoenix this year: Clever Koi, a modern Asian-American tavern.

Conveniently located on the Metro Light Rail just north of Indian School Road on Central Avenue, Clever Koi once housed a furniture store. Construction on the infill development project began more than four months ago with the splitting of the old building into two distinct spaces. A covered breezeway separates the two buildings; Clever Koi to the south and a proposed salon and wine bar to the north.


Photo courtesy of Clever Koi

All four partners took an active role in the construction, wielding hammers, drills and welding torches (above), and the occasional rock hauling for the landscaped front patio (below). They partnered with nearly a dozen local craftsmen, including Bang Bang Designs, who, among other things, salvaged wood beams from the inside demolition and repurposed them into a long, rustic bench on the front patio.


Photo courtesy of Clever Koi. (L-R) Joe Absolor, Nicholas Campisano

Are these first time restaurateurs nervous? You bet, but they are also electrified by the opportunity to “bring something different” to the dining scene.  Clever Koi is billed as a casual, modern Asian restaurant, yet not a single one of them is Asian. That doesn’t phase them because they aren’t trying to duplicate “authentic” Asian cuisine.

“Jared and I traveled a lot over the past few years to Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco,” says Absolor. “We started [eating in] Italian restaurants but found ourselves gravitating to the Asian stuff.”

They concluded there was nothing in Phoenix like what they were eating in these food-centric cities. That both thrilled — and scared — them as they formulated their future restaurant.

Porter says, “We’ve been trying to figure out if there is a desire for this [type of] food. We love it, but will it transfer from those food cities to here?”

That is the $64,000 question. Is Phoenix ready to embrace what the top food cities have been slinging for the past decade?

Come back later and we’ll share more details from our interview with the four partners, including what’s on the menu and a surprise the partners didn’t count on that put the opening date in jeopardy.

Clever Koi
4236 N. Central Ave., Phoenix

By Gwen Ashley Walters | OCTOBER 06, 2013 | NEWS & NIBBLES


I wrote an extensive article in the October issue of PHOENIX Magazine on the Arizona Food Cottage Law that was passed in 2011.

The law allows home bakers to sell non-hazardous baked goods (think cookies, brownies, granola, etc.) that are baked and packaged in their home kitchens, with certain stipulations.

During my research for the story, I uncovered a thorn in some home bakers’ sides. Despite the law, the largest county in Arizona, Maricopa County, published guidelines that, in effect, cut off wholesale opportunities to these budding bakers.

An opinion issued by the Arizona State Attorney General basically said the County had no authority to supersede the law. That official opinion did not impress the fellas at the County health department. But public opinion might.

The County is revisiting the Maricopa County Environmental Health Code Chapter 8, to determine whether or not to allow establishments they issue permits to, to sell home baked and confectionery goods from the State’s registered home bakers.

The State sent an email to all home baking registrants (and several of them sent it to me) with the following information on how to let their voices be heard:

Stay informed by checking Maricopa County’s website for updated information on the following:

If you have an opinion, either way, on whether the Maricopa County health department should or should not get in the way of the state law governing the sale of home baked goods, now is your chance to weigh in.

Use the links above to send your comments to Maricopa County via online or via email, and/or attend the two upcoming meetings on October 8 and October 28.

Your opinion counts.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | SEPTEMBER 29, 2013 | NEWS & NIBBLES


Phoenix New Times names Pen & Fork the Best Food Blog in Phoenix.

Wow, this is a big deal to us. The Phoenix New Times just released its annual “Best of Phoenix” issue and Pen & Fork was named Best Food Blog.

There are lots of food blogs in Phoenix, including the New Times’ own Chowbella, a blog I read daily for the latest  information on the Phoenix food scene.

We are honored to be recognized by the Phoenix New Times again. (We also won in 2011).

As thrilled as I am with the award (and I’m jumping up and down with joy!), I’m humbled by the words written about me, personally. You can read the whole entry here, but here is a taste:

“She’s honest, she speaks her mind, and she’s got great taste. Thanks for keeping it classy, Chef Gwen.”

Thank you, Phoenix New Times, for awarding Pen & Fork Best Food Blog in Phoenix.



By Gwen Ashley Walters | SEPTEMBER 24, 2013 | NEWS & NIBBLES


UPDATE 10-8-13 We have a winner! Congrats, Lindsey, you get 2 tickets to Getting Our Just Desserts at The Art Institute of Phoenix! Hope you enjoy the event.

PHOENIX — Enter to win a pair of tickets to Getting Our Just Desserts:

Getting Our Just Desserts isn’t only about desserts, although there will be plenty of sweets on October 12, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at The Art Institute of Phoenix in Central Phoenix.

Savory and sweet dishes from 20+ women chefs will share the spotlight, including FnB’s chef/owner Charleen Badman’s crisp falafel and her famous butterscotch pudding (you know the one, topped with a coif of barely sweetened whipped cream and a whisper of grated nutmeg — and if you don’t, here’s your chance).

Getting Our Just Desserts is about celebrating women in the culinary arts and giving back, specifically to C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program).

Do you want to help celebrate Phoenix women involved in the culinary arts? And at the same time help high school students interested in culinary arts further their education? Here’s how:

If you can attend the event on Saturday, October 12, enter this giveaway to receive 2 free tickets we purchased to support the event by leaving a comment below.

If you can’t go to the event, you can still support the event. Go like Getting Our Just Desserts Facebook page. And tell all your friends about it and encourage them to come meet some remarkable women chefs including Badman (FnB, Bodega), Amy Binkley (Binkley’s, Cafe Bink, Bink’s Midtown and soon Bink’s Scottsdale), Tracy Dempsey (TDO), and Hanna Gabrielsson (Beaver Choice). You will sample exquisite sweet and savory bites from these plus 20 other talented women culinarians.

In order to win the pair of tickets we purchased, all you have to do is leave a comment below telling us what your favorite dessert is. That’s it! But you must leave your comment by Tuesday, October 1, 2013 (11:59 p.m. EST.)


Event Details:
Getting Our Just Desserts
Saturday, October 12, 2 p.m. to 5p.m.
The Art Institute of Phoenix
2233 W. Dunlap Ave., Phoenix

If you want to buy tickets to Getting Our Just Desserts, visit the event page on Brown Paper Tickets.

Don’t forget to leave a comment before midnight on October 1 if you want a chance to win a pair of tickets to this event.

Fine Print:
I’ll pick a random comment from all qualified comments received by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. Your comment must be cast on THIS post. Only one entry per person (but you can list as many desserts as you like in that one comment.) No alternate entry is valid. I’ll notify the winner on Wednesday October 2, 2013.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 30, 2013 | NEWS & NIBBLES


Calling all Phoenix home cooks

MasterChef auditions are coming to town and if you think you’ve got what it takes to stand up to the invariable criticism you’ll endure as Gordon, Graham and Joe nitpick apart your deconstructed guacamole interpretation, then head on down to the Embassy Suites Biltmore on Saturday, October 5 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Details below, and if you make the cut, we’ll all say when knew you when…  GOOD LUCK!


By Gwen Ashley Walters | APRIL 22, 2013 | NEWS & NIBBLES


I always pinch myself every time the PHOENIX Magazine editor asks me if I would like to do a cover story for the magazine, but none more so than when she asked if I would write a comprehensive guide on Asian food in the Valley.

Dream job? Yes. You see, I (obviously) love to eat and write, but when an element of research comes in to play, it’s icing on the cake. I love to study food and culture, and this assignment let me do just that.

I had help from friends who are Asian, friends who love Asian food, and a silent but no less important friend, the library.

We cover the Far East cuisines of Thailand, Japan (including sushi), China (including 2 pages dedicated to dim sum), Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines. Before I started this story, I had no idea the Phoenix metro area had such depth in each of these cuisines.

We point out 12 essential Asian restaurants – both modern and traditional – but throughout the whole 24 pages, we cover nearly 50 worthwhile restaurants. I’ve eaten at every one of them and I have the chopstick skills to prove it.

We also take a look at Asian markets and the wide world of Asian noodles. I can’t tell you how gorgeous the Art Department made my words look on the page.

I have one correction, if you do have a copy. On page 91, I mention “Chuanbei hot sour bean noodles” from Kong Fu Gourmet, but the correct name for this fabulous food court gem in Mesa’s Mekong Plaza is Kong Fu Gyoza. They have wonderful pan-seared dumplings and dan dan noodles, too.

The magazine is on the stands now, so I hope if you’re in town that you’ll pick up a copy.

If not, you can go here to get a taste of what’s inside my PHOENIX Magazine May 2013 — Asian Food Guide.

Finally, I have one favor to ask of you. If I missed an Asian restaurant special to you, please let me know in the comments. I am always up for a new adventure.










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