Writer Shoshana Leon
Photography by Leevon and Daniel Guerithault
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or half a century, Chef Vincent Guerithault has used a colorful, deliciously edible palette to create esculent art in his kitchen. This year, the Arizona culinary community is celebrating this “godfather” of Arizona chefs and the 33 years that he’s blazed a gastronomic trail at his acclaimed restaurant, Vincent on Camelback.
Chef Guerithault’s culinary career began in France at age 16 at L’Oustau de Baumaniere in Provence. He then worked at Maxim’s and Fauchon in Paris before moving to Chicago at just 23 years old to be a sous chef at Le Français.
“Arizona wasn’t my first thought when I moved to the U.S.,” said Chef Guerithault. “After three years of cold weather and the blizzard of 1979, I had an opportunity to move west. In 1986, I opened my own restaurant, which is still at the same location today.”
Chef Guerithault is known for his unique ability to marry classic French cooking with Southwestern ingredients.
“I think my style has become more French over the years,” he said. “While I’ve always blended French with Southwestern ingredients, my menu from 25 years ago was more contemporary.
“I’ve enjoyed re-exploring my traditional roots and making things I used to make 50 years ago,” he said.
In addition to Vincent on Camelback, Chef Guerithault shares his passion for food at his Vincent Market Bistro adjacent to the main dining room, and a much-lauded catering business. The popular Camelback Market offers fresh produce, pastries, wine, grilled items and more every Saturday from mid-October through April in the restaurant’s parking lot.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a great staff, the core of which hasn’t really changed in 30 years,” said Chef Guerithault. “My sous chefs when I started the restaurant are still my sous chefs today.
“I certainly can’t take all the credit for our success. My wife has been at the center of it all since day one and she’s led the effort to expand beyond the fine dining restaurant and into our casual bistro and outdoor farmers market. With this, we’re able to attract people who might not have otherwise stepped into the restaurant.”
A True Inspiration
Arizona has many celebrity chefs and award-winning culinary talents, but Chef Guerithault was one of the first, which is why he is known to some as the godfather of Arizona chefs. He has done his part to earn the nickname. He has been a mentor and a friend to many Valley chefs.
Michael Rusconi, chef and owner of Rusconi’s American Kitchen in Paradise Valley, interned with Chef Guerithault for three years.
“Chef Vincent was very kind to invite me to do my internship at his new restaurant in 1986,” said Chef Rusconi. “Not only did he mentor me from a culinary standpoint, but I was also influenced by the way he marketed his restaurant as a chef owner.
“I remember how impactful it was when he greeted his guests from his exhibition kitchen as they entered the restaurant. I have used that same approach at my restaurant with my own exhibition kitchen, and it’s a big part of my success.”
Restaurateur Mark Tarbell owns Tarbell’s, The Tavern and The Wine Store just a few miles from Vincent on Camelback, and is also the host of the Emmy award-winning “Plate and Pour” on Arizona PBS. He has enjoyed a long relationship with Chef Guerithault.
“I have known Vincent since I moved here in 1986,” said Chef Tarbell. “When I left The Boulders to open my own restaurant just down the street on Camelback Road, I was frightened and freaking out. He called me 30 days before opening and offered to help in any way. He said that, if I didn’t have enough staff, he would lend me some of his. It was the kindest thing anyone ever did, and it meant a lot to me.”
Barbara Fenzl is former owner of Les Gourmettes Cooking School, cookbook author and host of the PBS series “Savor the Southwest.” In 1984, Fenzl met Chef Guerithault when he became a guest teacher at her cooking school. She and her husband are good friends with the chef and his wife, Leevon.
“Vincent taught me many culinary techniques over the years and showed me ways to economize in the kitchen,” Fenzl said. “His integrity, sincerity and willingness to mentor others hold him up as a true role model. I don’t think I know any other chef who works as hard as Vincent does. He continually comes up with new concepts and has continued success in a very competitive industry.”
Chef Guerithault and Vincent on Camelback have received several notable accolades over the years.
“Vincent was the first Arizona chef to win the prestigious Best Chef Southwest Award from the James Beard Foundation, and he set the standard for all those who followed,” said Fenzl.
“His menus and innovative recipes have influenced restaurants all over the country. He gives back to the community and his example encourages others to do the same. Other chefs look up to him.”
Chef Guerithault appreciates the people who have helped him along the way.
“It’s certainly a great achievement when someone marks 50 years in a career,” he said. “It wasn’t ever easy, but I’m fortunate to have had a lot of support, first from my parents, then from my mentors who helped train me, and now from the many patrons who have turned into friends. Of course, the last 33 years would’ve looked a lot different if it weren’t for my wife and family.”