Chef Robert McGrath is known for his creative approach to regional cuisine. The James Beard Foundation award-winning chef has helmed the kitchen at such fine dining establishments as the Four Seasons Hotel, the Phoenician Resort, Roaring Fork and Renegade Canteen. Since then, throughout the restaurant industry, McGrath describes a transition of “restaurants becoming more comfortable, more approachable, with not so much high-end dining.”
McGrath’s own career has also taken a turn, now serving as TV host for Eight’s Check, Please! Arizona. In this role, McGrath is garnering new acclaim, putting a face to the food that many have dined on for over two decades.
Currently in its fourth season, the two-time Emmy winning show has generated what McGrath estimates will be over 150 restaurant reviews by the end of the season, all by locals who dine at the chosen establishments. These conversations are all moderated with the safe guidance of McGrath’s quick wit.
The relationship between the restaurants and host is what helped launch Eight’s Check, Please! Arizona Festival at CityScape. The second annual event takes place this Sunday, March 30. Attendees are invited to taste the food of over 30 participating restaurants, view local artwork with Artlink Inc.’s Feast Your Eyes group art exhibition, and hear from a James Beard Award-winning panel discussion featuring chefs McGrath, Christopher Gross, and Nobuo Fukuda. These, and additional chefs, will also be cooking throughout the day on three stages.
Last year’s first Check, Please! Arizona Festival took place the last weekend in April, and McGrath says that in this second year, “the dynamic is going to be a little bit more active, a little more lively, a little more zip because it won’t be so darn hot.” With the exception of Chef Chris Bianco, who had family commitments this year, all of last year’s participating chefs are returning, a testament to the fun they all had last year.
“We all know each other very well,” McGrath says of his fellow chefs. “It’s a really nice discussion, a chance for the public to ask us about our careers and our opinions, our thoughts and ideals.”
McGrath’s transition to hosting, while seamless, was not something the chef sought out. McGrath recalls, “When they first approached me, I thought it was for a donation, a benefit to help the station. So I kept blowing them off.” It was, as he describes, his “irreverent self” that ultimately won him the spot. “It seemed so abstract. I didn’t put on an act to make it.” Of the show he didn’t know he was auditioning for, “I’ve had nothing but fun with it. It’s just been a great, great experience.”
This weekend’s event will offer festivalgoers the chance to try out for their spot as a critic on season five. While McGrath will likely be busy with his cooking demos and talks, leaving the initial audition process to the producers, he sees such a fun opportunity here, differentiating this event from the myriad of other food festivals that proliferate the Valley each weekend.
“How fun is this? You go down to the festival, you eat, drink and have a ball, the weather is great, and audition for a television program.”
Describing the ideal candidate as someone who is “comfortable in your own skin, having passion, and knowing what you’re talking about,” he may as well be describing his own unlikely audition a few years ago.
As the festival takes place in CityScape, McGrath would be remiss not to detail the changes to the downtown dining scene. “I think downtown is certainly getting more vibrant and getting a lot more variety in the dining down there.” He credits the variety of people moving downtown into the apartments and condos, as well as the draw of the historic districts, which has encouraged business—and thus restaurant—growth.
The diversity of the offerings downtown can be summed up in his go-to spots. “For me to pick a favorite restaurant is like trying to pick a favorite child. My favorite restaurant is whatever strikes the mood at that particular time.”
With that said, he singles out a few of his fellow panelists. “I love Chris’s [Bianco] pizza, and I love Nobu’s [Nobuo at Teeter House] food. If I was doing it on a pretty regular basis, I think it’d be Mrs. White’s [Golden Rule Café], I just love her food. You just can’t tell my cardiologist that. And they’re doing some neat things at Blue Hound at the Palomar right there at CityScape.”
Whenever McGrath does make it back to the kitchen, he keeps a local goal in mind. “I’m looking for the best possible ingredients. Typically that applies to ingredients that are closer to the kitchen, closer to the restaurant.” He cites it as a chef’s “responsibility” to “support local growers and farmers.”
Between featuring local restaurants on Check, Please! Arizona, leading a food festival in the heart of downtown, and relying on local food sources, McGrath practices what he preaches.
“I think keeping our money amongst our community here, in terms of agriculture and restaurants, it’s healthy. We’re all supporting each other, all promoting each other. It’s synergy.”
If You Go
When: Sunday, March 30th, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tickets: Visit www.azpbs.org/checkplease/festival
Photos courtesy of Eight, Arizona PBS
Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. Indiana Jones’ hat. Harry Potter’s cloak. All conjure images of characters deeply ingrained in movie culture. These accessories not only define individual characters, they immediately transport us back to the fantasy movie worlds they inhabited: the Emerald City, the Temple of Doom, or Hogwarts.
When looking back on other movies, the clothing is less easily identifiable to a character, as might be the case with Heath Ledger’s character Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist, the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. Upon first glance, the plaid and denim they wore are simply cowboy uniforms, but, as any good costume designer knows, it is that imperceptible skill—of finding the exact wash and cut of denim, the proper tailoring of the shirt—that makes an outfit look natural and not like a “costume,” that is the true craft behind costume design. The shirts provided a thread throughout the film, and came to embody the whole arc of the characters’ lives.
It is this creation of character, of individuals and their stories that defines a costume designer to Dr. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, curator of the Phoenix Art Museum’s Hollywood Costume exhibit, which opens on Wednesday, March 26th. “We’re storytellers,” she says of her fellow designers. While “we start with the words,” she says, giving credence to film writers, “we create the people in the movies.”
For anyone who questions the validity of an exhibit titled Hollywood Costume being shown in an art museum, Phoenix Art Museum Director Jim Ballinger believes that over the past several decades, “film has become one of the great art forms, and continues to be so,” thus linking the movies with the myriad of other art forms represented throughout the museum. Additionally, there is a “great tradition of ongoing fashion design” represented at the museum, deftly portrayed through shows by Curator of Fashion Design, Denita Sewell, making this exhibit right at home here at PAM.
In what Ballinger calls “one of the most important shows we’ve brought here,” over 100 costumes from movies spanning the history of film fill the exhibit. Hollywood Costume was on view last year at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Its only other U.S. stop was at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Here at PAM, there are two notable additions to the show—the shimmering white dress worn by Jennifer Lawrence’s character Rosalyn Rosenfield in American Hustle, and Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfield’s blue velvet suit. Neither outfit have been seen outside of the movie set.
To Landis, costume design has both a narrative and visual importance. While the obvious connotation of the word costume conjures flamboyant, outlandish getups, “the superficial,” as she refers to them, Landis says that “the best costumes are the ones you never notice.”
All movies require costumes, clothing to create the character. That is where the costume designer steps in. “The director is asking us to believe that everyone in the movie has a life before the movie begins. We [as viewers] are joining the people in the movie. Who are they? And that’s the question that every costume designer must ask,” according to Landis.
Landis, who was nominated for an Academy Award for 1988’s Coming to America, designed the costumes for Michael Jackson’s iconic music video for Thriller, and served as costume designer for Animal House and Raiders of the Lost Ark, among others.
Her costumes for Indiana Jones serve as a focal point within the exhibition. Director Steven Spielberg, film star Harrison Ford and Landis worked together in crafting the look that would become the trademark for scholarly adventure heroes. A digital screen above the costume dissects each element of Indiana Jones’ outfit, from the pockets on his shirt, to the leather used in his boots and jacket, to the detailing of the whip, and of course, his hat.
Other notable displays include a montage of Elizabethean couture, from outfits worn by actresses playing the venerable Queen to those worn in Shakespeare in Love. While the the exhibit spans eras, with costumes from The Wizard of Oz through the recent American Hustle, the majority of the clothing is from the past few decades. Standouts include outfits from Vertigo, The Birds, The Seven Year Itch, and Funny Girl, while more recent creations from The Big Lebowski, Oceans Eleven, Fight Club, and even Twilight all have their place.
While bejeweled gowns abound, the show equally represents men’s and women’s fashions, just as movies do not simply represent one gender’s perspective. Who would James Bond be without his signature tux, or The Dude be without his fuzzy gray robe? These looks are just as significant as Eliza Doolittle’s in My Fair Lady or Satine’s in Moulin Rouge.
Accompanying Hollywood Costume is a small exhibit of 12 gowns, called Hollywood Red Carpet. These are the dresses that one identifies with the actresses who play the movie characters. These dresses represent their glamorous versions of themselves, dolled up to attend the Academy Awards. Landis described that it is this differentiation that separates costume and fashion designers. After often looking unattractive or downplaying their looks in costume, on camera, the fashion the actresses choose to wear on the red carpet enhances their best self.
Landis believes that her exhibition “is not about the clothes. It’s an exhibition that has the wrong name.” While one will certainly leave Hollywood Costume having viewed more outfits than on an average shopping trip, she is right. It is both a celebration of and tribute to the movies, as with each dress, hat and jacket, the memories that item worn on the big screen comes rushing back. Seeing Rose’s (Kate Winslett’s) structured suit and large hat instantly bring back not only her first moment onscreen in Titanic, but the entire three-hour opus and the love affair between Jack and Rose.
The splendor of the clothing, the artistry of the design and the juxtaposition between fashion and cinema provide a fantastical tour through the history of movies.
Special Exhibition Hours:
The museum has extended its hours for Hollywood Costume. Timed tickets can be purchased in advance of your visit here.
March 26, 2014 through July 6, 2014
- Tuesday, Noon to 5 p.m.
- Wednesday, Noon to 8:30 p.m.
- Thursday, Noon to 5 p.m.
- Friday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
- Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- First Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
This is an exclusive opportunity to visit Phoenix’s only historic theatre and to learn more about FOTOT, its mission and new initiatives. Refreshments will be served.
RSVP to Pat.Deloney@Phoenix.gov or 602-534-5601 by noon on March 19.
David Krietor has served as CEO of the newly-formed Downtown Phoenix, Inc. (“DPI”) since April 8, 2013. In that time, he has begun work with community stakeholders to develop the downtown we want. “Your Downtown” shares his thoughts and DPI’s progress with the downtown community and beyond. Read the other chats here.
I’m salivating: Late night pizza delivery is coming to downtown Phoenix with Grand Avenue Pizza. I’m tapping my toes: The Nash, Phoenix’s jazz club on Roosevelt Row, was recently named one of the 160 greatest jazz venues in the world. I’m riding high: Free bike rental service will soon be available for ASU students downtown.
And with what follows, I’m in sharing mode:
Mayor Stanton Celebrates Downtown
Mayor Greg Stanton highlighted downtown’s gains and challenges in his “Celebrate Downtown” address presented at Artlink’s Art d’Core Gala on March 1 at Crescent Ballroom. To a packed (and slightly rained upon) house, the mayor marked the collaborative contributions of businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, and his own agenda to rebuild neighborhood identity, culture, and business.
Downtown Stands Up Against SB1062
Numerous local business and civic organizations (including Downtown Phoenix, Inc.), Mayor Stanton, Phoenix City Council, Arizona’s two U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives Pastor and Sinema (representing central Phoenix), and each state legislator representing central Phoenix took a united and firm stand in opposition to Arizona Senate Bill 1062 (exercise of religion; state action). All requested Governor Jan Brewer veto the divisive, discriminatory, and ineffectual bill, which she did on February 26. Other downtown groups opposed to SB1062 included the Arizona Association for Economic Development, Arizona Bioindustry Association, Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, Arizona Technology Council, Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Downtown Voices Coalition, Evans Churchill Community Association, Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Greater Phoenix Leadership, League of Arizona Cities and Towns, Local First Arizona, Phoenix Community Alliance, and Visit Phoenix.
Numerous downtown advocates attended two open houses in late February to review the Phoenix Comprehensive Downtown Transportation Study. Downtown Phoenix, Inc. submitted a letter to study organizers outlining DPI’s priority areas regarding transportation issues downtown. As an initiative of the Maricopa Association of Government’s Central Phoenix Transportation Framework Study, the Phoenix Comprehensive Downtown Transportation Study was launched to investigate and analyze potential roadway, transit, bicycle, pedestrian, and parking improvements in the downtown area. Study goals are to move people, build more livable streets, and enhance economic opportunities.
The Suns Make a Playoff Run
There is something special happening at US Airways Center. The Phoenix Suns, who everyone believed were headed into a rebuilding year, are fighting for a spot in the NBA playoffs. Click here for ticket information for remaining home games.
The Downtown Phoenix Podcast launched as a unique collaboration among downtown activists, stakeholders, news organizations, and neighborhood groups. The podcast’s host and managing editor, Edward Jensen, asked me to serve as the first guest (aka “the guinea pig”) to talk about Downtown Phoenix, Inc., past, present, and future.
Don’t miss the once-a-year opportunity to peer into the studios of working artists and wander through galleries during Artlink’s Art Detour 26 this weekend. Along with the top art venues of downtown Phoenix and countless pop-up exhibits, dozens of painters, sculptors, photographers, glassblowers, and other creative minds open the doors of their private space to curious visitors.
With the event map in hand, art lovers can explore more than 100 stops on a two-day self-guided tour, many within convenient walking distance of the free Art Detour shuttle route. Docents ride along on two London-style double-decker buses circulating continuously at 20-minute intervals between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, while four information hubs at Phoenix Art Museum, Oasis on Grand, CityScape, and the Arizona Center provide volunteers ready to answer questions.
The adventure begins this evening with a greater-than-usual array of First Friday opportunities, including an open rehearsal by the Phoenix Chorale at Trinity Cathedral. While you’re there, check out Olney Gallery’s Color Color Color! exhibition, featuring work by Kaori Takamura, Sarah Kriehn, and Christopher Jagmin.
Elsewhere, the weekend is filled with live music — along with a multitude of casual performances like Bones of Folk’s Danyul Kostin at Oasis on Grand and the Moonlight Howlers at The Lost Leaf, tonight’s ambitious Viva Phx festival brings 70 groups — including Sir Mix-A-Lot, The Neighbourhood, Black Carl, Tobie Milford, and Pinback — to 14 venues ranging from Crescent Ballroom to the Hotel San Carlos to the Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center. The next day, Phoenix Blues Society’s Blues Blast ’14 fills Saturday with tunes from Hans Olson, Leon J’s JukeJoint, the Mike Eldred Trio, and other Rhythm Room stars at Margaret T. Hance Park — show an Art Detour map for a ticket discount.
Once your ears are satiated, fill your eyes with images from Artlink board member Hugo Medina, curator of the Phoenix Phabulous History Mural showing at Walter Studios. “I think it’s important that artists keep creating, pulling forward, which I try to do with my own work as well,” he says. “Phoenix is a phenomenal destination…. We’ve just got to start getting the collectors to start coming out, and that’s the challenge.”
For the month of March, R. Pela Contemporary Art will display Banned at the Herberger, including part of a controversial canceled show originally scheduled last fall at the Herberger Theater Center Art Gallery. The exhibit includes work by Mike Ford, Ronnie Ray Mendez, and Lisa Albinger. “Mike Ford’s photographs, about his relationship with his mother who has Alzheimer’s disease, have such depth,” says curator Robrt Pela. “There’s sadness, and camp, and real emotion. I had to share them.”
He continues, “I think that the art that I’m showing…I want there to be craftsmanship and beauty, but there has to be another element too…some commentary, some politics, some pain. It can’t just be something that’s lovely to look at because that isn’t quite enough.”
Other popular, highly-regarded mainstays anchoring First Friday and Art Detour include Practical Art and monOrchid. Great Arizona Puppet Theater offers edgy, quirky, adults-only Puppet Slams both Friday and Saturday nights.
All weekend, kids can find plenty of fun with finger-paint murals, demonstrations, workshops, and other family-friendly activities at Kids’ Detour, various galleries and studios, and the Blues Blast. Retailers and restaurateurs also add to the experience with extended weekend hours and specials.
If you go:
- Artlink First Friday on March 7
- Viva Phx music festival on March 7
- Phoenix Blues Society’s Blues Blast ’14 on March 8
- Artlink’s Art Detour 26 on March 8-9