Arizona Restaurant Week

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Arizona Restaurant Week is coming up September 19 through the 28. It’s a chance for foodies to try a new restaurant in the Phoenix and Tucson areas for one fixed price. Massimo de Francesca, executive chef at Taggia at the FireSky Resort in Scottsdale, Chris Curtiss, executive chef at Bourbon Steak at the Fairmount Princess in Scottsdale, and Susie Timm, owner of the Girl Meets Fork, a marketing company that caters to restaurants, will talk about Arizona cuisine and restaurant week.

Ted Simons: Arizona Restaurant Week is just about here, foodies in Phoenix and Tucson will get a chance to try new dishes and dining experiences at a reduced fixed price. Joining us is Chef Massimo de Francesca, Chris Curtiss and Susie Timm of Arizona Restaurant Week. Good to have you all here, thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: I guess probably, Suzie, starting with you, what is Arizona Restaurant Week?

Susie Timm: It's a 10-day culinary adventure. It's a chance to go tasting with your buds. 10 nights of amazing edibles all over Phoenix and in Tucson, as well. There are 190 participating restaurants this year. Try something you've never had exactly.

Ted Simons: What will you be featuring and why?

Massimo de Francesca: So we're an Italian restaurant and we're doing a zucca-tasting menu. Fall is just around the corner, I figured we'd do a squash-tasting menu.

Ted Simons: Does that represent the menu or is this a chance to show off a little?

Massimo de Francesca: A little bit of both. It's still true, the Italian theme, sort of reinvented classical Italian dishes made with squash.

Ted Simons: As far as bourbon steak, what are you showcasing now?

Chris Curtiss: Some great fresh seafood and beef, obviously we're known for our beef. We're going to do some dishes so people know we're more than just a steakhouse. It's three courses, they get multiple choices in each course.

Ted Simons: And for you, an opportunity to show the range. Are you serving any steak with this?

Chris Curtiss: We're going do a braised beef shortrib and pork tenderloin and market fresh as far as the other options.

Ted Simons: What's the cost, what do they need to know?

Susie Timm: Both restaurants have a three-course menu priced at $44 per person plus tax and gratuity. If you go to ArizonaRestaurantWeek.com you'll find the menu of, again, what the price points are. They have gluten free options, as well.

Massimo de Francesca: Vegetarian, gluten free, we like to cater to everyone. There's a huge demand now for not only dietary restrictions, a lot of people cannot digest gluten protein. It's becoming very, very demanding right now.

Ted Simons: Is that the kind of thing as a chef, you know what something tastes like but you've got to kind of matrix, new formula, don't you?

Chris Curtiss: Absolutely. We're constantly having to adapt and evolve to guests' wants and needs. It's an extra challenge but it's no problem.

Ted Simons: What changes for you?

Chris Curtiss: It gives us another opportunity to give our guests something kind of outside the box, and give us an opportunity to hopefully bring some guests in and show them that we can cater towards their needs.

Ted Simons: Do you prepare any differently?

Massimo de Francesca: No, we're still preparing with the same love and attention to detail, but it's just a different menu.

Ted Simons: As far as you're concerned, just preparing for the week has to be a little different.

Massimo de Francesca: Well, it is. We're preparing our regular menu but this whole new inventory for the next 10 nights. A little more demanding, but it's fun.

Ted Simons: How about the customer? A different kind of customer?

Chris Curtiss: You could say. A lot of customers that don't dine out, this is a good reason to try some of these restaurants they normally don't. Less intimidating at that price point.

Ted Simons: A different kind of customer here?

Chris Curtiss: I would say so, yeah. We view it as kind of an open house, so to speak. It's an opportunity to shows these guests that we're here and willing to show a great level of hospitality for them.

Ted Simons: Talk about Phoenix, and we'll talk about Phoenix here in particular the Valley, as a foodie destination. I keep hearing we're getting there.

Susie Timm: Oh, I think we're there. I feel like over the years it's progressed exponentially with the help of chefs, but there are a ton of really great excellent chefs in this town, excellent restaurants. I think we're finally getting some of the national credibility we deserve.

Ted Simons: Do some areas have certain histories or personas or are known for certain types of presentation? Is Phoenix getting a reputation for something?

Massimo de Francesca: I would say so. I think we've created amongst chefs and other restaurants, nationwide, like you said, I think we're getting there I think a lot of chefs from other towns or cities, it's a great opportunity for them to make a name for themselves here. Really raising the bar.

Ted Simons: Instead of a New York or San Francisco where you've made the big-time, whatever it is, you get to go and do your own things and see what happens?

Massimo de Francesca: Playground, like an open canvas.

Ted Simons: Or a laboratory, if you will?

Chris Curtiss: Exactly.

Ted Simons: Is that how you see it?

Chris Curtiss: More or less. With Phoenix as a food destination and an identity within itself, what's helping is a lot of local farms have become more prolific over the past five years. Chefs love to be able to work with local farm fresh produce. To have that available is a real blessing.

Ted Simons: Can you tell the difference? Is it just neat to have it and cool to say it's local, or can you say, that basil comes from Gilbert?

Chris Curtiss: Oh, it tastes so much better, it's so much fresher and alive and it comes through.

Ted Simons: Same with you you?

Massimo de Francesca: Absolutely. There's no need to pull that fruit under ripe and have it ripen en route to the final destination.

Ted Simons: What else does Phoenix need to further the reputation as a destination?

Susie Timm: I think it needs better national publicity. We need the food and wine magazine, the bon appetite magazine to give us our due. I believe there are a ton of chefs who have proven their worth here. You're looking at two of them.

Ted Simons: Why do you think the reputation is there?

Susie Timm: Phoenix has had a reputation for the chain restaurant, there are so many visitors, people aren't interested in fine cuisine, but I feel that's not true at all.

Ted Simons: There's a rap on Phoenix diners, we don't want to try anything new. That is valid?

Massimo de Francesca: I'm still relatively new to the city, and another fellow chef had put it to me, it's like a bunch of cattle, directing them to one entry. I think the diner here is still -- it's just a different diner than cities in fact that I'm used to, the New Yorks.

Ted Simons: I don't know how to work the metaphor there, but is it getting better?

Massimo de Francesca: I think so.

Ted Simons: Okay. What do you think, as far as that's concerned? Again, do you get that criticism? I just want the same old thing, same thing they have had before. Is that changing?

Chris Curtiss: I think I've seen that there is a larger percentage of people that are more adventurous and willing to try new things. The trick is to get them comfortable within your restaurant and have some confidence in your style of cooking. Then gently ease them into a different direction.

Ted Simons: Do you get a little exasperated sometimes, I want to do X but they seem to want Y. Challenging as well, going back to the cattle metaphor? Lunch? Dinner?

Susie Timm: Dinner only, starts Friday.

Ted Simons: And runs to the 28th.

Susie Timm: Arizonaweek.com. It does have menus, everything you could want. You have to make the reservation by calling Open Table, or calling the restaurant directly. You have everything you need on that it would be.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on your success, as well.

Massimo de Francesca:Executive Chef, Taggia; Chris Curtiss:Executive Chef, Bourbon Steak; Susie Timm:Owner, Girl Meets Fork;

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