Cowboy ChefHe's not an Arizona native, but you'd never know it by tasting one of Robert McGrath's Southwest-inspired creations.
By Kelly Kramer
Robert McGrath isn't your ordinary standard franks-and-beans cowboy fare.
A five-time James Beard nominee (and one-time winner), McGrath started making his mark on Phoenix's culinary scene in 1992, when he moved to the Valley to serve as chef de cuisine at Windows on the Green at the Phoenician Resort. Later, he forged a decidedly Southwestern menu at the acclaimed Roaring Fork, where he harnessed Arizona's finest flavors.
"There's a simple and sensible approach to the lifestyle out here, and that carries over to the food and the restaurants," McGrath says. "That characteristic, tempered with the progress of our ongoing evolution, is the bridge. Arizona has a wealth of ingredients due to the diversity of the microclimates throughout the state. There are so many different ways to exercise so many ingredients."
Although McGrath sold his interest in Roaring Fork last year, he is, by no means, out of the business. Shortly after the death of his friend, Chris Pischke, McGrath scooped up Pischke's Paradise in Scotts-dale, revamped the menu, and returned much of the glory to one of the Valley's most storied restaurants.
"The sentiment was to keep some of the businesses [in Scottsdale] alive and running and not let everything be assimilated into the chain program — keep local businesses run by locals," he says. "This building has housed two of Scottsdale's true landmarks, Pischke's Paradise and Mag's Ham Bun. Hopefully, we can continue to keep Scottsdale in the hands of Scottsdale."
What's more, McGrath added another new restaurant to his Scottsdale saddlebag, opening REM in Scottsdale, which he describes as a throwback to "old-school continental cuisine."
When he's not in the kitchen, the chef doesn't hesitate to take advantage of the state. "Horseback riding is one of my favorite pleas-ures, and spending time at our home in Pine- top is always relaxing," he says. "We enjoy Ari-zona in slow motion. We enjoy a little here, a little there, and make a stop over there."
And when it comes to his ideal Arizona road trip, McGrath's itinerary would be rooted in what he knows best — food. "I'd visit Tubac and eat at the Country Club. Then, I'd head south to Bisbee, spend the night at the Shady Dell, and enjoy breakfast at the Breakfast Club," he says. "Next, I'd be off to Springerville to take in the Chavez family's New Mexican cuisine at Los Dos Molinos — adovada ribs. The next stop would be Payson to enjoy some great Italian food at Chef Gerardo's Italian Bistro. And finally, I'd stop in Sedona to visit Café Elote for Jeff Smedstad's Mexican cuisine. Then, of course, I'd bring the road trip back to Pischke's Blue Ribbon in Old Town Scottsdale."