Arts & Culture
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.
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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.
Super Bowl XLIX will be played in Glendale on February 1, 2015, but Super Bowl Central will be right here in downtown Phoenix. In the week preceding the big game, downtown Phoenix will host major events and initiatives centered in 12 city blocks, including the NFL Experience, the NFL Media Center and more. The activities were announced this morning by Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee representatives and Phoenix city officials.
Everyone will be working together to pull out all the stops, showcasing downtown Phoenix’s urban center within the warmth of the desert. “We know how to collaborate, and we know how to do it better than anyone else,” said CEO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee Jay Parry of the relationship between the city and the NFL.
Vowing to be a great Super Bowl partner, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton spoke to the unique collaboration of a whole range of partners who are working together, including a city departments, Downtown Phoenix Inc., local businesses, restaurants, community groups and arts organizations.
“Super Bowl Central, along with the NFL Experience and NFL House, will turn Downtown Phoenix into the Super Bowl epicenter. It will provide both local and visiting fans an amazing opportunity to be part of this global event,” said Mayor Stanton.
The festivities will spread from CityScape to the Phoenix Convention Center, and Monroe Street to the US Airways Center, anchored by the iconic Super Bowl roman numeral numbers that will tower 30 feet high. Anticipating more than 1 million visitors, David Rousseau, Chairman, Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, says, “We are thrilled to be providing extensive and engaging events and activities that will showcase the energetic and vibrant culture of Arizona to fans, sponsors and media alike.”
- NFL Experience—Phoenix Convention Center. The world’s largest interactive football theme park will feature attractions that simulate the elements that are found in the NFL, including free autograph sessions, kids’ football clinics, entertainment attractions, football memorabilia, interactive football games and more.
- NFL Media Center—Phoenix Convention Center. Anticipate 5,000+ media members. More than 30 countries will be represented.
- NFL Headquarters—Hyatt Regency Phoenix. A major hub of activity and meetings for the NFL and its key partners.
- NFL House—CityScape. A high-end, drop-in facility for business partners and Super Bowl VIPs that will operate from Thursday through Sunday of Super Bowl week.
- Outdoor Fan Campus—Spanning 12 city blocks throughout downtown Phoenix, from 3rd Street to Central Avenue and Jefferson Street to Monroe Street.
Activities throughout the Outdoor Fan Campus:
- Two entertainment stages featuring performances from local bands during the day to national recording artists at night.
- Beer and wine gardens
- Cultural and outdoor activities unique to Arizona
- Football themed activities
- Home of NBC and NFL Network studios
- Showcase Arizona community groups and schools
“Today’s announcement is a testament to the incredible work our downtown community has done to broaden and deepen our urban culture,” said David Krietor, CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc. “Whether it’s the arts, music or sports, downtown Phoenix is fast becoming our region’s gathering place. I am 100% confident the NFL and the Host Committee will be pleased by the vitality and diversity they will experience in downtown Phoenix.”
Watch the Host Committee’s video depicting Super Bowl Central, and get a sneak peak of downtown as a backdrop to the week-long festivities.
Photography by Stephen G. Dreiseszun/Viewpoint Photographers
DPJ writers Hillary Brody and Jill Bernstein contributed to this story.
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.