By Gwen Ashley Walters | SEPTEMBER 21, 2014 | NEWS


“It makes you tremble and it makes you weak/Gets in your blood, that Memphis Beat.”  Jerry Lee Lewis

The historic Peabody Hotel (and their famous ducks) welcomed 120 food journalists and food writers to Memphis, Tennessee, for the annual conference of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ), September 10–12.


The three-day conference was jam-packed with Southern hospitality from the restaurant, hospitality and tourism industries of Memphis. If you’ve never been to Memphis, you might be surprised by the abundance of history and culture — and great food — tucked into this sultry city on the mighty Mississippi River.

For Elvis fans, there’s Graceland. For music buffs, there is Sun Studio, Stax Museum and Beale Street, which one conference goer summed up as a shorter Bourbon Street with better music.

For everyone else, there is the National Civil Rights Museum — powerfully moving. Oh, and fried chicken (Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and Jack Pirtle’s Chicken), Memphis-style BBQ (too many to name, but Rendezvous is an experience and I loved Central BBQ), and Southern food — new (Felicia Suzanne’s) and old (Orange Mound Grill).


Food journalists attended this conference to network with each other, dive head first into professional development seminars, and to gather story ideas to take back to their respective cities.

I’m still digesting everything I learned in those three days, but here are a few random bites of wisdom that stuck out to me from the sessions:

Food journalism matters because there is a lot of fast and loose crap out there.” Kim Severson, New York Times. If you produce content for others to read, it’s important to report accurately and disclose any conflicts. Ethics matter.

Speaking of ethics…

“How can you form an opinion if you haven’t been there?” Daniel Vaughn, BBQ Editor of Texas Monthly commenting on “best of” lists not informed by actual experiences.

“Ignorance is expensive and most people can’t afford it.” Fred Davis, retired Civil Rights leader. Mr. Davis was with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his last march. The National Civil Rights Museum is built out from the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

“Community cookbooks are artifacts of world history.” Kate Medley, former newspaper reporter and Southern Foodways Alliance oral historian who now works for Whole Foods. Check out A Spoken Dish, an amazing video project Ms. Medley produces, documenting Southern food traditions.

“We’ve raised a generation of kids who think fruit is a flavor.” Tony Geraci, Executive Director of Memphis City Schools Nutrition Services, and subject of the documentary “Cafeteria Man.”

Many others have summarized and captured their experiences in Memphis. Check out the “What Happened in Memphis” section of AFJ’s website for more stories and pictures.

(L-R, clockwise) Watermelon tea, tomato pie, house pickles from Felicia Suzanne's restaurant.

(L-R, clockwise) Watermelon tea, tomato pie, house pickles from Felicia Suzanne’s restaurant.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 27, 2014 | NEWS



When Justin Beckett and Scott Stephens (Beckett’s Table) opened Southern Rail next to indie bookstore Changing Hands on Camelback Road, they figured there would be synergies, especially when it came to national cookbook authors touring through Phoenix. Maybe they’d plate up a few appetizers for book signings.

They never imagined the first opportunity would be such a major score: hosting a dinner for rock-star Southern chef Sean Brock from Charleston, South Carolina. Brock is kind of a big deal, especially among Southern food fanatics.

“Sean Brock is the guy who brought low-country cooking to the national scene,” Beckett says, who admits to having a bit of a chef-crush on the tattooed Virginia native.

Immediately following Brock’s Changing Hands book signing on Monday, November 17th, Beckett will welcome Brock with a four-course dinner featuring recipes from Brock’s new cookbook, Heritage. Seatings will begin at 6 p.m. (and continue every 15 minutes until the last seating at 8:30 p.m.).

Make reservations for the $95++ dinner (which includes a copy of Brock’s $40 cookbook) by calling Southern Rail at 602-200-0085. (Hint: hurry, this should sell out quick.)

“We are honored and excited to have someone with so much passion and experience in Southern cooking in our house,” Beckett says, who along with Stephens, gorged on a 10-course tasting menu at Husk, one of Brock’s signature restaurants in Charleston, before opening Southern Rail.

Heritage, which has been in the works since 2011, features Brock’s interpretation of Southern favorites like Pickled Shrimp, Hoppin’ John, Fried Chicken and Gravy, and Cracklin’ Cornbread (Side note: Husk serves the best damn cornbread I have ever eaten. Here is a picture of it I took in 2011)


Brock is a hot commodity in the foodiverse. As the chef of McCrady’s in Charleston, he picked up a 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast, but it is Husk that put him in the national spotlight. In 2011, Bon Appetit magazine named Husk the Best New Restaurant. He has since opened a second Husk in Nashville. Brock was also a finalist for Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation in both 2013 and 2014, and he has appeared on Iron Chef America and season 2 of The Mind of a Chef, which recently won a daytime Emmy for Outstanding Culinary Program. 

Chef Justin Beckett

Chef Justin Beckett

Southern Rail opened in May of this year, the second restaurant from Beckett and Stephens (award-winning Beckett’s Table was the first). Beckett has been recognized as a Food & Wine People’s Choice Best New Chef Nominee as well as winner of several local awards, including Top Chef from the Arizona Restaurant Association.

(photo of Sean Brock by Andrea Behrends)

Sean Brock Heritage Cookbook Dinner
Southern Rail
300 W. Camelback Rd.
Monday, November 17th
Seatings between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Cost is $95 ++ but includes a copy of Brock’s Heritage book ($40 value)
Make reservations by calling Southern Rail at 602-200-0085

Note: If you can’t make the dinner but still want a book and a chance to meet Brock, Changing Hands (Camelback) is hosting a cookbook signing prior to the dinner. Call the bookstore at 602-274-0067 to purchase a ticket for the book signing-only event.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | JULY 28, 2014 | NEWS


8-23-14 UPDATE: Just got word about the rankings so far with only 9 days of voting to go.

Here are the rankings:

1. Justin Beckett & Jeff Schoening, Beckett’s Table – Buttermilk Pie w. Wildberry Sauce- 307 votes

2. Walter Sterling, Ocotillo (Opens Late 2014) – Vegan Coconut Chocolate Sorbet w. Smoked Almonds & Caramel- 307 votes

3. Tracy Dempsey, Tracy Dempsey Originals (2013 Gelato Wars Winner) – Camelback Crunch / White Chocolate, Roasted Pistachios, Honey Comb, Dried Apricot, Chocolate & Ganache Swirl- 283 votes

4. Keenan Bosworth, Pig & Pickle – Goat Cheese Gelato w. Carrot Cake- 279 votes

5. Gio Osso, Virtu – Honey Toasted Almond Biscotti- 258 votes

6. Josh Hebert, Posh – White Chocolate Stracciatella w. Amarena Cherry Sauce-209 votes

7. Scott Holmes, Little Miss BBQ – Smoked Banana Pudding w. Vanilla Wafers- 158 votes

8. Michael O’Dowd, Urban Vine – MOD Mole (no count provided)

9. Matt Carter, The Mission & Zinc Bistro & The House – Sweet Corn w. Truffle Honey w. Wild Blueberry sauce (no count provided)

Get out there and vote.


It’s not a real war, but there is some friendly competition and charitable cash on the line for the 2nd Annual “Gelato Wars,” a promotion dreamed up by The Gelato Spot.

Ten Valley chefs crafted a special gelato flavor to pit against each other, including reining 2013 champ, Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals. The public votes with their wallet during the month of August.

Ms. Dempsey won last year’s competition with a chocolate gelato studded with vanilla bean marshmallows, coconut candied peanuts and a shoyu caramel sauce (pictured above). Will she reign supreme again this year with her new Camelback Crunch (white chocolate, roasted pistachios, honey comb, dried apricot, & chocolate ganache Swirl)?

Here’s her competition:

  • Keenan Bosworth, Pig & Pickle – Goat Cheese Gelato with Carrot Cake
  • Gio Osso, Virtu – Honey Toasted Almond Biscotti
  • Michael O’Dowd, Urban Vine – MOD Mole
  • Matt Carter, The Mission, Zinc Bistro and The House – Sweet Corn with Truffle Honey and Wild Blueberry Sauce
  • Josh Hebert, Posh – White Chocolate Stracciatella with Amarena Cherry Sauce [we loved his strawberry miso gelato last year]
  • Josh Bracher, The Second Story Liquor Bar – Sage Brown Butter and Candied Cashew [wait a second... doesn't Second Story Liquor Bar owner Tommy Plato own The Gelato Spot? Is that a home field advantage?]
  • Justin Beckett & Jeff Schoening, Beckett’s Table – Buttermilk Pie with Wild Berry Sauce
  • Scott Holmes, Little Miss BBQ – Smoked Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafers
  • Walter Sterling, Ocotillo – Vegan Coconut Chocolate Sorbet with Smoked Almonds and Caramel [ hey, NEW RESTAURANT ALERT! Ocotillo opens late 2014 in Central Phoenix. We've been a Sterling fan ever since he cooked at Aaron May's Sol Y Sombra.]

Here’s how it works: the chef whose gelato flavor sells the most at all three Gelato Spots combined wins the competition. What do they win, besides bragging rights? Five hundred bucks to pocket and a $5,000 check presented to Make-A-Wish Arizona on their behalf. Pretty sweet deal.

To kick off the month-long competition, guests who buy two scoops of gelato at any of Gelato Spot location on Friday, August 1st from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. will receive a voucher for a FREE Wood Fired pizza (one per person) to be redeemed anytime from August 2nd through August 31st (at The Gelato Spot in Old Town Scottsdale only).

The 10 chef flavors will be available at the following Gelato Spot locations:

  • 3164 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602.957.8040
  • 4010 E. Greenway Rd., Phoenix, 602.494.4010
  • 4166 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480.425.8100

With temperatures averaging in the near-hades range, it shouldn’t be too hard to convince Phoenicians to buy a couple of scoops of gelato, especially for a good cause.

All the flavors sound delicious, so we’re not going to call this one just yet. But Ms. Dempsey’s Camelback Crunch does have a certain (cha-ching) ring to it.

Which flavor sounds best to you?

By Gwen Ashley Walters | JULY 14, 2014 | EAT HERE


Two things I love: Shrimp & grits and animals.

And now there is a Charleston event that combines the two. On Saturday, August 30th (Labor Day weekend), Charleston will host a shrimp & grits cook-off with a portion of the proceeds going to the Charleston Animal Society.

Trust me, folks, Charleston is serious about shrimp & grits.

I did a round-up of six Charleston shrimp & grits dishes here. I thought I’d eaten a lot of shrimp & grits, but that was nothing compared to this upcoming event.

Fifteen Charleston chefs will face off to create their best shrimp & grits dish for a shot at bragging rights — and to give back to their community. It’s going to be a party with live music. Prolific cookbook author Nathalie Dupree will be there, too, signing her cookbooks.

Who doesn’t love a party… in Charleston… with shrimp & grits… and live music… and the Queen of Southern cooking, Nathalie Dupree?

And did I mention shrimp & grits? Made by fancy pants chefs like Chef Ramon Taimangalo of Amen St. Fish & Raw Bar. (Below is his shrimp and lobster risotto dish).


It’s never too early to plan a road trip… or buy a plane ticket. Get on it.

I have a feeling this event is going to sell out.



Shrimp & Grits Charleston
Chefs competition benefiting Charleston Animal Shelter
August 30, 7 p.m.
Downtown Charleston
Tickets $30 in advance, $30 at the door

(This post was updated to reflect the picture from Amen is shrimp and risotto, not shrimp and grits.)

By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 23, 2014 | NEWS


Psst… soon, details about a very special event will be revealed and if you live in Arizona, you don’t want to miss this day: Sunday, October 19, from noon until 4 p.m., at the gorgeous Farm at South Mountain. 

The Phoenix Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), an organization of women leaders in food, beverage and hospitality, is holding a benefit for Native Seeds/SEARCH, a seed conservation organization based in Tucson, Arizona.

The Dames (full disclosure, I have been a member since 1999) know how to put on an event. We don’t put on that many events, but when we do, it’s special — and it sells out. Our last event was nearly two years ago, a fundraiser celebrating Julia Child’s 100th birthday. We raised $4,000 for C-CAP scholarships.

This coming October, we’ve put together an afternoon of learning, eating and drinking. We’ve snagged the state’s most celebrated chefs who are deeply committed to the local, seasonal and sustainable food movement to create a four-course meal. We’ve scored an internationally known author, lecturer and scientist dedicated to understanding the intersection of food and culture to enlighten us during the meal.

There are other surprises, too. But there’s a catch. We are limiting the number of tickets to 75 so we can keep the event intimate and special.

Now, that’s all I can say right now. But if you want to learn more, keep an eye on the Phoenix Les Dames facebook page:

There are more clues there.

*Les Dames d’Escoffier International is an invitational organization of women leaders in food, beverage and hospitality whose mission is education and philanthropy. A portion of the proceeds from Afternoon at The Farm will benefit Native Seeds/SEARCH.




By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 16, 2014 | NEWS


Hot Corner. That’s the name reporter Mark Brodie from Phoenix NPR affiliate KJZZ (91.5 FM) came up with for an occasional short segment on the locally flavored program, The Show (Fridays, 2 p.m.)

Every now and then, Mark and I meet somewhere in the Valley to talk about new restaurants. I love talking about these independently owned spots, and celebrating the neighborhoods where these restaurants reside.

Below (with the most recent first) are links to all the Hot Corners we’ve recorded to date. Another one is on tap soon, and I’ll post it here when it runs. In the meantime, you can catch up on where we’ve been so far here. And if you like hearing stories about Phoenix, tune into The Show every Friday at 2 p.m. on KJZZ (91.5 FM).

Updated 8/23/14: 

August 2014 – 44th Street & Camelback Rd.

Restaurants featured: Flower Child, The Henry, Chestnut, Steak 44.

Updated 6/30/14:

June 2014 – 7th Street & McDowell 

Restaurants featured: America’s Taco Shop, Urban Vine, Rice Paper, The Main Ingredient, Gadzooks, Taco Guild.

April 2014 – Gainey Ranch

Restaurants featured: POMO, Forno Fabbri, Cuttlefish, Notorious Burgers, Naya Mediterranean, Soi Four, Chez Vous.

January 2014 – First Street & Pierce Street

Restaurants Featured: Phoenix Public Market Cafe, POMO Downtown, Breadfruit, Matt’s Big Breakfast.

November 2013 – Indian School Road & 38th Street

Restaurants featured: Essence Bakery, Crudo, Nook, Beckett’s Table, Seed Cafe in Madison Improvement Club.

August 2013 – Old Town Scottsdale

Restaurants Featured: FnB, Citizen Public House, The House Brassiere, Barrio Queen, Kelly’s at Southbridge.

July 2013 – Central Avenue & Indian School Road

Restaurants featured: Lux, Pane Bianco, Maizie’s, St. Francis.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | APRIL 30, 2014 | NEWS


Ciao, bel mondo! I wish I could speak Italian. I can’t, but I sure can eat it with abandon, and write about it, too. That’s exactly how I spent the better part of three months earlier this year, working on comprehensive guide to Italian dining in the Valley for PHOENIX Magazine.

The May issue, on newsstands now, features the frutti del mio lavoro, expertly edited by Craig Outhier and transformed into 24 magnifico pages of un assaggio di Italia by the masterful art department, headed by dirttore Brian Goddard.

You can get a sneak peek at the issue on the PHOENIX Magazine website. Subscribers get full access, by the way, not to mention early delivery of the magazine before it hits newsstands (a shameless plug for you to buy a subscription, yes.)

The feature covers:

  • My top 10 essential Italian restaurants (there are some surprises on the list.)
  • 5 Italian delis you must visit & why.
  • Q & A with two titans of the Italian dining scene, Angelio Livi of Avanti & Tomaso Maggiore of Tomaso’s
  • Pizza pyramid. Guess who is on top? But did you know about the others?
  • Pasta Primer … where to get some of the best handmade pasta in town.
  • More than 45 neighborhood Italian joints & what makes them special.

So you see, there’s a little aperitivo for everyone. Go take a peek for yourself, and then if you spot it on the newsstands, pick up a copy.


Buon appetito!


By Gwen Ashley Walters | APRIL 14, 2014 | NEWS

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


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


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

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