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Experts say Valley gaining reputation in restaurant industry

(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.

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About the Author


Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.

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