• Diana Brandt

Sushi With Sous Chefs

You'll find this article in the June 2017 Issue of the Arizona Foodie Magazine. Want a subscription, so that you'll be the first to get the next issue coming out Sept. 1st? Go here: Arizona Foodie Magazine Subscription

Or you can read the online issue here: https://issuu.com/arizonafoodie/docs/junearizonafoodie

Photography by Chanelle Sinclair

I can almost taste that juicy burger as I walk towards the front door. I’ll never forget the time I first experienced a Delux Burger with a side of fries in a little shopping cart. Those delicious hamburgers quickly became one of my favorites in town. I push open the doors to the familiar space, booths adorn one side of the small space, a counter runs down the other side and in the middle is a row of steel hightops with blue lights glowing inside them.

I walk towards the open kitchen in the back. Cooks are bustling to get their plates out for the hungry lunch guests. I’m greeted by the manager as we take a left and walk into the other space, now occupied by Zen, their sushi concept. Chef Balo is standing there with a large grin on his face, eager to shake my hand. I can tell he’s excited to share his food with us, while I interview Chef Samantha Sanz of Talavera, from The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North.

I slide into the booth closest to the windows and door because the lighting is optimal. Chanelle starts clicking away at her camera to test the light and grab some detail shots. I look up from the table and spot Chef Sanz walking across the parking lot towards the restaurant, with her boyfriend by her side. I get up from the table, open the door and give her a hug. This is only the second time I’ve seen her without her chefs coat on. A colorful patterned dress blows in the breeze as she walks and her thick brown hair is not up in a bun like usual but falls midway to her back.

We settle into the booth while she tells me about her night off. I gather that it consisted of plenty of eating and drinking at Restaurant Progress, and then continued at a few other places.

She apologizes for being tired and out of it, but I assure her the interview will be quick.

She takes a long drink of her water, then cleares her throat. “I come from Nogales, a small town in Mexico that borders Arizona. We grew up there and crossed the border every day. I came here to Phoenix after high school and went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. One day at school, somebody asked if we wanted to go prep at the restaurant inside the Sanctuary, Elements, for Super Bowl weekend, in 2008. I went, and Chef Beau MacMillan gave me a job on the spot.”

Chef Sanz’s accent isn’t thick anymore, but you can tell it’s her second language.

“I was still going to school and working every day. It was 16 hour days standing. One time, I started crying to my mom that I couldn’t do this anymore because I was so overwhelmed. She told me to just push through it because I only had two more months of school left.”

She transitioned well from school to work, but she had a major obstacle.

“When I got into the kitchen at the Sanctuary, it was hard because I had the language barrier thing going on. I understood what everyone was saying, but it was hard to be confident in what I responded with. I was exposed to English, but I wasn’t good at having conversations with it.”

I’m always curious about the kitchen dynamics for women in an industry dominated by men. The kitchen can be an aggressive space. It takes a tough skin and ambition if you’re going to succeed.

“The guys were all cooking Gods in my eyes. They were all level 1 cooks, and I was the rookiest of the rookies. It was very hard for me to adapt and some of them were really mean to me.”

Food comes to our table, and Chanelle lifts her camera and starts snapping away again. I take my chopsticks and grab a piece of the roll, staging it in the air for pictures, before devouring it. Delicious!

“They would slam the doors on me,” Chef Sanz says with aggravation., “and there was this one time this guy was talking crap about me, calling me lazy and all this other stuff. I told him to go fuck himself. It was the first time I had ever said something bad in English, but after that, they stopped bothering me. They just needed me to stand up for myself.”

She takes the chopsticks in her hands and begins to eat before continuing with another story.

“Another guy was so mean to me, but he was the one that taught me how to cook. One night we went out, and he was so sweet. He was kissing on me. I was shocked because of the way he treated me at work. I asked him why he was nice to me now when he was always so mean to me at work. His response was, ‘Oh, I’m just building your tough skin for the other kitchens.’ I realized then that these guys were trying to build me up and throw me into the fire, to make sure I could handle it.”

Chef Balo returns to our table with another beautiful dish of delicate pieces of fish.

“Elements became my school, that’s where I learned everything and where I was brought up as a cook. My goal was to become a cook 1 in 3 years, but by the time I got to that level, I was pretty burnt out.” The tone of her voice saddens. “I had started evaluating my life, sure I had finished school and I was working, but I felt like I hadn’t done anything in my youth.”

At 22 years old, s