Writer Shoshana Leon

Photography by Dave Seibert, Galdones Photography, and Royal Palms Resort and Spa

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the highest honors in the culinary industry is the James Beard Award. This year, Chef Charleen Badman of FnB restaurant in Scottsdale made history when she won the 2019 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest after multiple nominations. It was the first time in 12 years that an Arizona chef was recognized with this prestigious honor.

“It was emotional to hear my name called,” said Chef Badman, who opened FnB in Scottsdale in 2009 with Pavle Milic. “I’m excited that this award will bring more attention and recognition to Arizona’s deserving culinary scene.”

The mission of the James Beard Foundation (JBF) is to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse and sustainable for everyone.

Chef Badman has been involved with the foundation for several years, from cooking at the James Beard House in New York City to participating in JBF’s Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. She is a strong advocate for JBF’s commitment to sustainability and education.

Chef Badman is known for her love of seasonal ingredients and her passion for nutrition education. Through the Blue Watermelon Project, a Slow Food Phoenix initiative, she works with local schools, farmers, chefs and the community to instill healthy eating habits in students from a young age.

“The Phoenix culinary community has grown in part to chef-leaders like Charleen Badman,” said Katherine Miller, vice president of impact for the James Beard Foundation. “She supports local farmers, highlights Arizona wines and encourages others to get more involved with the community. It’s a model we’re seeing more and more around the country: chefs producing delicious experiences while also using their voice to champion their region and the causes they care about.”

Taste America 

JBF will be recognizing Phoenix as one of America’s most vibrant food cities when its cross-country Taste America tour returns to the Valley for a seventh year in September. Traveling to 20 cities this year, Taste America celebrates the country’s diverse culinary culture and the role that chefs play in advocating for a more delicious, sustainable and equitable food world.

The Phoenix Taste America event will kick off Sept. 19 with the Raising the Bar reception at Young’s Market Company in Phoenix, featuring cocktails from top Valley mixologists and bites from local chefs. 

“Raising the Bar helps Taste America bring a younger audience to our events, highlights the talent of local mixologists and shows how to throw a sustainable cocktail party,” said Miller.

Mixologists participating in Raising the Bar are Kyla Dahl from Pigtails Cocktail Bar, Keifer Gilbert from Bitter and Twisted Cocktail Parlour, Chanel Godwin-McMaken from Little Rituals, Matt Steward from UnderTow and Henry Whittaker from The Brickyard Downtown. 

Participating chefs are Christopher Brugman from Castle Hot Springs, Dom Ruggiero from Hush Public House, Tamara Stanger from Cotton and Copper, Brett Vibber from Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine and Juan Zamora from Chula Seafood.

“It warms my heart to be invited by the James Beard Foundation to participate, and it will be a memory that I will hold close for years to come,” said Godwin-McMaken “Recognition by the James Beard Foundation shows you are moving the food and beverage industry forward in a meaningful way.”

“It’s an honor to be included in this group of bartenders and chefs,” said Gilbert. “I’m excited to showcase some new techniques.”

Local participants are humbled to be part of the Taste America events due to JBF’s mission. 

“The James Beard Foundation is important to the industry for a number of reasons, including its involvement in issues that are centered around feeding all people good, quality food,” said Chef Vibber. “It’s important to have an outlet and platform where we can come together as an industry and make change happen. I’m proud to be considered a steward of this great state’s food.”

Gala Dinner

The Taste America gala dinner will take place on Sept. 20 at Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix. Each Taste America dinner features a visiting all-star chef, a local all-star chef, and several local chefs creating reception dishes and desserts. 

This year’s visiting all-star chef is Tiffany Derry, owner of Roots Chicken Shak and Tiffany Derry Concepts in the Dallas area. Chef Derry, who competed on Top Chef and served as a judge on Top Chef Junior, is involved in several JBF programs and initiatives. 

Following Chef Badman, who served as last year’s local all-star chef, is Danielle Leoni, executive chef and co-owner of The Breadfruit and Rum Bar in Phoenix. She has been involved with JBF and its Smart Catch, Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, and Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership programs. 

“I am thrilled to have the honor of being selected as the Taste America Phoenix all-star chef for 2019,” said Chef Leoni. “I am proud to represent Arizona at a culinary celebration that lets good food, social impact and sustainability be the true stars of the show.”

Chefs participating in the reception before dinner are Cat Bunnag from Glai Baan, Stephen Jones from The Larder and The Delta, Tandy Peterson form Mowry and Cotton, Ryan Swanson form Kai, and Claudio Urciuoli from Pa’La.

Following the reception, guests will enjoy a three-course meal created by Chef Derry and Chef Leoni. The evening includes a silent and live auction with a portion of the proceeds benefiting JBF’s scholarship programs. The event will conclude with a dessert reception featuring creations by Danielle O’Day from Sweet Dee’s Bakeshop and Hollie Layman-Sanders from Royal Palms.

A Sustainable Legacy

In addition to recognizing culinary excellence through its awards and events like Taste America, JBF offers robust scholarship, leadership and policy programs to build a platform for chefs to drive behavior, culture and change around food.

“My participation in JBF programs helped me realize the power I have to shape my community and have a positive influence on our nation’s food system more broadly,” said Chef Leoni. “The Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change inspired me to enroll in and complete the executive master of sustainability leadership at Arizona State University to understand the business case for sustainability, and has set me on a path as a force for good through food. 

“As a chef, it is my responsibility to be the change I want to see in our food system.”

Chef Leoni sees positive change in the local culinary industry. “Arizona chefs have always been brimming with passion and talent, but now we are taking it to the next level. We are using our culinary prowess to change the way our community thinks about food.”


Raising the Bar Reception

Thursday, Sept. 19 | Young’s Market Company, Phoenix | 5:30 p.m. VIP ($100) | 6 p.m. General Admission ($65)

Taste America Gala Dinner

Friday, Sept. 20 | Royal Palms Resort and Spa, Phoenix | 6:30 p.m. VIP Reception ($500) | 7 p.m. Cocktail & tasting reception | 8 p.m. dinner ($275)