National Spotlight Turns to Phoenix's Top Five Chefs, Awarded Thursday

PHOENIX, Feb. 5, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In front of a standing room only crowd inside the Phoenix Art Museum last Thursday, Phoenix's most talented chefs were awarded with the region's new top honor, the 2013 Ripe award.

Ripe is the soon-to-be annual honor that recognizes extraordinary talent selected by a panel of judges who are immersed all year round in the Valley dining scene. Sponsored by the Men's Arts Council of the Phoenix Art Museum, the group of judges will weigh in every winter to identify local culinary talent that is expected to do creative, edgy and even shocking things in the upcoming year. These culinary masterminds are branded ripe for the picking.

The 2013 inaugural class of Ripe is nothing short of stellar – from Esquire Magazine's "Nation's Best Restaurant" winners to an improvisational mastermind and a New York restaurateur turned Scottsdale favorite – this group of world-class talent can stand up to any James Beard award winner, past or present. 2013 Ripe honorees include Bernie Kantak, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Citizen Public House, named one of 2011's "Nation's Best Restaurants" by Esquire Magazine; Josh Hebert, executive chef, owner and creator of Posh, the Valley's first improvisational cuisine concept; Charleen Badman, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Scottsdale's highly lauded FnB, Greg LaPrad, Executive Chef and Owner of award-winning local favorite Quiessence; and Silvana Salcido Esparza, two-time James Beard Award nominee, Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame inductee and executive chef and co-Owner of Barrio Café and Barrio Queen.

Chefs need not a national reputation to be considered for this honor, but chefs are chosen based on their abilities to produce bold, sensational cuisine that inspires the palates of locals and visitors alike. The long-term goal for the Men's Arts Council is to draw more national attention to Phoenix as a true dining destination.

"I've lived in the Valley for 9-plus years and have witnessed a real culinary insurgence here that is very exciting. The Phoenix Metro area is home to some of the region's – if not the nation's – best chefs and I'm constantly inspired by the level of culinary genius in this town," said Ryan O'Donovan of the Men's Arts Council. "We (the Men's Arts Council) felt it was time to give Valley chefs their own award to pay homage to their greatness. Although it's a local award and event, we see this as an opportunity to boost the level of attention for the Phoenix dining scene – it's time for our culinary talent to be recognized and appreciated; to make Phoenix a national destination for the culinary arts."

Thursday's sold-out inaugural event was attended by more than 400 hungry culinary fans and elected officials. The evening showcased delectable selections like savory uni cheesecake with mentsuyu, sprouts, wasabi, pickled daikon, ginger and nori from improvisational cuisine king Josh Hebert.

LaPrad, who developed his culinary influences in Tuscany and is a devoted follower of the slow food movement, served a sinful chicken liver pate on a perfect crostini with seasonal pickled vegetables.

Kantak, who has been featured in countless national publications like Food & Wine and has made appearances on the Food Network, served pomegranate cured tuna with yuzu tapioca and tamari.

Badman, who owned a successful New York City restaurant before returning to her Arizona home, served house made beet falafel with pickled beets and tahini.

Esparza, nominated for the James Beard Award in 2010 and 2011, served her famous Barrio Guacamole with pomegranate seeds, along with horchata, mini chiles en nogada, and crema de elote; a roasted cream of corn soup with shrimp.

All five award-winning chefs were presented with a butcher block award presented by Men's Arts Council president Garrett McKnight and council member Ryan O'Donovan; the award elegantly engraved to honor their induction into the Ripe Class of 2013.

The evening was hosted by Master Chef Season 3 top five finalist and fan favorite Monti Carlo, now a top radio morning show host on Phoenix's My 103.9 FM. A huge fan of the culinary arts, Carlo also notes that her now Valley home is one of her favorite locales in which to dine.

"I'm originally from Puerto Rico and I've lived all over the United States from Florida to Seattle, Los Angeles and more, so my culinary tastes and inspirations are varied and unique," says Carlo. "When I moved to Phoenix I didn't know what I'd experience but I can honestly say that I've have had some of the best meals of my life in this city. The level of culinary talent here is kind of a secret from a national perspective but I don't think it will be that way for much longer. This city is on the verge of something great."

A handful of Arizona's best wineries were also on hand to pour for eager attendees, including Dos Cabezas, Lawrence Dunham Vineyards, Pillsbury and Arizona Stronghold. Arizona musician Roger Clyne also lent his famous Mexican Moonshine to the event, providing tastings to tequila lovers, while Grand Canyon brewing rounded out the selections on which event-goers imbibed all night long.

For more information on the Ripe awards and event, or to arrange interviews with any of the five winning chefs, the Phoenix Art Museum's Men's Arts Council or Monti Carlo, please contact Shelby Tuttle of Salt Public Relations at or 480.275.8888.

Media Contact: Shelby Tuttle | Salt | 480-275-8888 | Email:

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Source: Ripe Awards