Regional Spotlight: The Southwest
By Amanda Faison
There’s a certain pride that radiates from the Southwest (an area defined by the Bureau of Economics as Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas,). It’s a badge of honor to hail from states that many consider too hot, too dry, or too arid. But despite the heat (indeed, because of the heat) this region is rich in resources and the 12 chefs featured on the Good Food 100 Restaurants that hail from these states champion the fruits of their land.
“I believe that every state has the capacity to sustain itself if we take care of local producers who take care of the land and maintain land integrity,” says Jonathan Perno, executive chef at Campo (6 links), the restaurant that sits on Los Poblanos historic inn’s organic farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The five-time James Beard semifinalist, goes on to say “I try to find myself in relationships with those people.”
2019 James Beard-winning chef Charleen Badman takes a similar stance at FnB (6 links) in Scottsdale, Arizona,. “We are an agricultural rich state,” she says. “We support our famers and more and more restaurants and chefs are leaning that way and are supporting local.” Badman, who opened her restaurant with partner Pavel Milic in 2009, has always focused on local producers and her menus highlight Arizona’s bounty. (At one point Food & Wine called FnB the “epicenter of creative Arizona cuisine.”) Badman has seen the Scottsdale restaurant scene change for the better. “I know as a chef and business owner how important it is to support local economy. I appreciate that chefs are asking farmers to grow things. And seeing a product that may have only been available at a farmers’ market now in a grocery store because of consumer demand,” she says.
Chef Danielle Leoni of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar (6 links) in Phoenix, is similarly energized by the valley’s commitment to showcasing that state’s producers. “As the city grows, there’s a community of chefs that are inspired to engage in Arizona’s cuisine and showcase what is truly Arizona,” she says, noting that she stands firmly in both honoring her restaurant’s Jamaican cuisine and local producers. Since opening in 2008, Leoni has also become known for serving sustainable seafood. That may seem like a juxtaposition and she’s been told that sustainable seafood doesn’t have relevance in the desert. To which Leoni says “everyone has seafood on their menu and if they’re going to commit [to best practices], you have to go all the way.” In her commitment to go all the way, Leoni is drastically cutting back on her plastic use and pushing back against the city of Phoenix for its lack of recycling and composting programs. The city’s defense? A 2050 plan.
Across the valley in Scottsdale, Badman, like many restaurateurs across the nation, is keeping a close eye on immigration and its ripple effect. “[Arizona’s] immigration issue is a big problem. So many restaurants talk about staffing and how hard it is,” she says. “But either people can’t get here or they don’t want to be here because of the laws we have. Arizona is one of the harder states in which to exist.”
Throughout the Southwest, the Good Food 100 chefs rally in a fierce commitment to do the right thing. It’s a collective point of pride and, as Leoni puts it, “Chefs shouldn’t be able to claim fame if they aren’t living up to the responsibility and aren’t embracing best practices in the good food system.”