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
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CO-OP Phoenix produces first community Book Swap and launches five Free Little Libraries
With five clothing swaps under their belt, 700 swappers, and over 2500 lbs of items donated, Kelsey Wong and Karla Rasmusson, co-founders of CO-OP Phoenix have planned their next big community event, Book Swap PHX. On Saturday, March 22, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Civic Space Park will be filled with once-enjoyed and ready to be enjoyed again books of every genre. Not only will these once-loved books be swapped, but also heartwarming stories from one reader to another will be shared.
“It’s really rewarding to see Phoenix coming together. Locals are really craving new ways to connect and be a part of something,” said Kelsey Wong, executive director of CO-OP Phoenix. “Our events are different than your typical guest and entertainer, they are interactive. Every attendee gets to engage.”
CO-OP Phoenix isn’t stopping at the swap, they are launching five new Little Free Libraries downtown in partnership with Downtown Phoenix Partnership and the Little Free Library program. Starting at Civic Space Park, Heritage and Science Park, Downtown Info Center and Phoenix Public Market, the Book Swap will live on as donated books will be stored in the these libraries. In it’s most basic form, a Free Little Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book–or two–and bring back one to share.
“We love what CO-OP Phoenix is doing to bring fresh faces to the area and show locals that not only is downtown Phoenix community a cool place to be, but that we are a thriving city in the making,” states Sara Anderson, events manager for the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.
After a full day of community and book swapping, leftover items will be donated to Little Free Libraries.
“Little Free Library is excited to participate in the Book Swap because all items donated will continue to be shared and enjoyed to any reader,” says Samantha Jackson, founder of Little Free Library in Phoenix.
Tickets are free with a $5 suggested donation online or at the door. To pre-register for tickets, swappers can visit http://bookswapphx.splashthat.
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! National Tour to Discover Strange, Weird, & Unbelievable Items Comes to Arizona Science Center
Ripley’s is looking to buy items from the public at its ”Bizarre Buying Bazaar” in Phoenix, March 21 & 22
Not sure what to do with that shrunken head that’s been taking up space in the closet? Ripley’s Believe It or Not! has a solution for you.
Ripley’s Bizarre Buying Bazaar is coming to Arizona Science Center on Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22. It’s the fifth stop on a road trip to several cities in the U.S. and Canada to find and acquire items worthy of being part of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! collection.
Edward Meyer, Ripley’s VP of Exhibits and Archives, will review all items that come in and will make on-the-spot offers for items worthy of being a part of the world famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not! collection. For more than 35 years, Meyer has traveled the world collecting unusual stories and unbelievable items for the company. He has acquired over 20,000 different museum artifacts, as well as countless stories for its cartoon and books.
What is Ripley’s looking for at the Bizarre Buying Bazaar?
“We’re hoping to find oddities, artifacts, relics, strange things from science and nature, unusual artwork – the weirder the better,” says Meyer.
Meyer has purchased more than 100 items from the public at Bizarre Buying Bazaar events – everything from a rare New Guinea widow’s finger chopper to a motorcycle created from cow, alligator and other animal bones to a lamp made from a taxidermy chicken. Items offered but not purchased included a $400,000 Lamborghini!
Even if Ripley’s doesn’t acquire an item, its owner may still get an oddpraisal - that means Meyer won’t necessarily tell people what an item is worth, but will give them an idea of how unusual it is.
“This is our first Bizarre Buying Bazaar held in the southwestern U.S., so I’m hoping we see some Native American items and natural wonders from the desert,” said Meyer.
Oddity owners planning to attend the Bizarre Buying Bazaar are encouraged to RSVP to Angela Johnson at Johnson@ripleys.com in advance and provide some details on the item they want to bring in. That will allow Ripley’s research team to see what they can find out about the particular items of interest in advance.
The Bizarre Buying Bazaar will be held on Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22 at Arizona Science Center, located at 600 E. Washington Street in downtown Phoenix. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
Image Courtesy of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
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
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.
When the New York Times Great Homes and Destinations section noted, “What You Get for… $900,000,” guess what popped up first? Why this little gem in our very own Willo Historic District. This is a reminder that downtown Phoenix is not only home to a growing number of condos and apartments filling in vacant lots, but established single family neighborhoods (and neighbors).
Meet the New City Manager
Congratulations are in order for Phoenix’s new City Manager and DPI Board member Ed Zuercher. After a six-month national search, Ed was selected to replace David Cavazos. Ed is a 20-year city employee and had been acting manager since Cavazos left in October.
At a press conference on February 18, Mayor Greg Stanton announced that Phoenix is among a select few U.S. cities that will work with Google to deliver the company’s ultra high-speed Google Fiber network to local residents, businesses, and education centers. Greater Phoenix was one of only nine metropolitan areas chosen as potential sites for the network, and the City of Phoenix – along with Scottsdale and Tempe – will work with Google teams over the next several months to take the necessary steps to roll out this cutting-edge technology to the Valley.
Take an Art Detour
The 26th Annual Art Detour, March 8-9, 2014, will be an exceptional celebration of artists and their important contribution to the vibrancy of downtown Phoenix.
More than 100 spaces, including working artist studios, unique art spaces, galleries, cultural venues, restaurants and retailers will open their doors to make this the best two-day, all-access pass to the downtown arts scene in Detour’s 26-year history.
Celebrate the Art d’Core
To kick things off, join Mayor Greg Stanton on Saturday, March 1, at the Art d’Core Gala, a celebration of the significant role the arts have played in invigorating and adding color to our downtown. The event is sponsored by Downtown Phoenix, Inc., CityScape, Phoenix Convention Center, City of Phoenix Aviation Department, Support Sky Harbor Coalition and benefits Artlink Phoenix Inc.
Stay the Night
Also getting into the art spirit is the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, which now offers an Art Package so visitors and locals alike can experience the downtown’s growing art scene. Local DJs and visual artists are featured on a rotating basis, and guests upon check-in receive a complimentary Artlink Phoenix map of galleries, studios, and art-friendly businesses.
Check out the Fourth Annual Mardi Gras and Parade, which will headquarter at CityScape. From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on March 1, revel with the help of a DJ curated soundtrack, creepy masks, vendors and, of course, beads.–UPDATE: THE PARADE IS CANCELLED; OTHER FESTIVITIES CONTINUE.
View the New Venue
The Pressroom, located at 441 W. Madison Street, opened this month. Built in the 1920′s, the 14,000 square foot, red brick building once housed the city’s most modern printing press. Now the site offers ample indoor and outdoor space for concerts, weddings, private parties, corporate meetings, performing and visual arts, and sporting events.
No Festival of Film
No Festival Required is organizing a Sunday matinee music-oriented documentary film series at the Phoenix Center for the Arts through the month of May. Local photographer and videographer Steve Weiss created No Festival Required in 2002 to help boost the art form of film in downtown Phoenix, first through short film screenings and now primarily documentaries.
The Taste of Phoenix
Six Arizonans have been named semifinalists for the 2014 James Beard Awards, the restaurant industry’s version of the Academy Awards. Three of the six have strong ties to downtown Phoenix: Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco (pictured right), Sam Fox of The Arrogant Butcher, and Silvana Salcido Esparza of The Barrio Cafe.
Sponsor Bike Share
Final negotiations are in process with several key sponsors for Grid Bike Share. These efforts will continue, with a focus on sponsorship collaboration opportunities for local retailers. A 200-bike Grid program rollout is slated to begin the week of April 21, with plans for a major intro event in coordination with the City of Phoenix and Valley Metro. Rollout will finish in May with a total of 500 Grid bikes at 50 stations.