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(KTAR Photo/Bob McClay)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Restaurant industry experts say that Arizona's growth has brought more chefs and a better reputation for restaurants in the state.

Arizona restaurants used to have a reputation for two things: "Mexican food and Mexican food," said Steve Chucri, President of the Arizona Restaurant Association.

Chucri said that started to change in the 1990s when Phoenix became known as a test market.

"For example, the concept of a wrap was tested here with some chains," Chucri explained. "Arizona has been seen as a young state that has great potential and growth opportunity."

According to Chucri, that opportunity brought versatile chefs who own a variety of restaurants so unique, customers can't believe their meals aren't created by completely different chefs.

"The culinary diversity, by way of menu items and the chef talent we have in Arizona, is really starting to set us apart from the pack," Chucri said.

Gio Osso, the executive chef at Virtu Honest Craft in Scottsdale, agrees with Chucri's sentiments.

"Arizona has become this melting pot now where you have a really broad spectrum of cuisines, especially in the Phoenix Valley, that is putting Phoenix on the map, actually," Osso said. "Now that the economy is coming back into shape, there are more and more restaurants with different outlooks and different cuisines coming into play, which is really, really special."

Osso said that Phoenix is on a course to become one of the top restaurant cities in the country.

"Like a New York, like a Chicago, like a San Francisco, it's [Phoenix] starting to make a name for itself," Osso said. "With all of the talent we have in this city, [we] are really setting the pace for Phoenix to do great things in the future."

Chef Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table in Phoenix said the economic downturn brought a silver lining for the Valley by opening up opportunities for chefs from other parts of the country to try running a restaurant here. Because of that, he thinks the future is bright for Valley restaurants.

"These smaller, independent, chef-run, partnership-driven restaurants are really what's going to provide that uniqueness and label us as a food town as much as these other big cities," Beckett said.

Osso and Beckett are among five chefs who will receive Ripe trophies Thursday night. The Ripe Awards are given to various chefs each year by the Phoenix Art Museum to honor them for their achievements.

Bob McClay, Reporter

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