Growing up in lush Upstate New York, Bernie Kantak found his first job at the ripe age of 10 – washing dishes in the Hungarian kitchen his grandmother ran in Ohio. He ended up leaving the bountiful greenery of New York to pursue a degree from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. Ten years later, he was a featured chef at the James Beard House in New York City. After stints at restaurants in Scottsdale and Phoenix, he took the plunge and opened his own restaurant – the highly acclaimed Citizen Public House in Scottsdale, serving an eclectic “super pub” menu of contemporary American cuisine and craft cocktails.
Q&A Bernie Kantak
Describe the Southwest: Hidden treasure.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with? I really like using less desirable cuts of meat like pork temple or turkey tails and turning them into something beautiful through braising, smoking or slow roasting.
What is your favourite regional dish? It’s hard to pick just one dish, but Joshua Johnson at Kai restaurant in Arizona is doing some phenomenal food with native regional products.
What tasty bite should travellers to the Southwest not miss? Quail. I think it’s an abundant, underutilised product here in the Southwest.
What inspires you about your region? I truly feel that there are some amazing up-and-coming chefs in our area who have yet to be discovered. The pockets of great restaurants that cover everything from molecular gastronomy to Sonoran hot dog carts and everything in between, and many with mind-blowing products.
What inspires you about your work? My biggest inspiration is the people who walk in our door each day. We have many guests who come to see us each day, and we try our best to convert everyone who visits into a regular part of our family.
What’s your favourite place to visit in the US? New York City. I have family and friends there, and there’s an endless list of restaurants I want to try.
Where is your favourite city to eat in the US? It would be a toss-up between Chicago and New York City for sure. Both are such great cities with anything your heart could possibly desire a taxi ride away.
Who/What inspired you to become a chef? It’s a funny thing. I get this question a lot and to be honest I really feel that this is a business that you’re either meant to be in or you aren’t from the time you’re born. It takes a bit of a different breed of person to be in this business. I was kind of born into it – my father’s father was a German butcher, and my mother’s mother ran a reception hall in Ohio making traditional Hungarian food for weddings and reunions. I spent quite a bit of time as a child running around watching cabbage rolls and head cheese being made. I quite honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.
How are you inspired by your environment and the seasonal foods in the US? I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have become friends with quite a few individuals from Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina and Brazil. The close proximity to Mexico has given me a wealth of knowledge of their traditional ways of food preparation and ingredients, and I have certainly incorporated it in my own style of cooking.
How has American culture shaped the way you cook? Americans love comfort food, especially here in Arizona it seems. I do tend to use traditional techniques in food preparation and build layers of flavours which were always so common in our grandmothers’ kitchens.
What international influences have inspired your cooking? My family had a lot of Eastern bloc influence throughout my childhood from my grandparents. More recently, my friends from Latin America [have inspired me]. Truly the person who taught me the importance of textures is Nobuo Fukuda from Japan, who worked at my sister restaurant, Sea Saw, and now has Teeter House in downtown Phoenix.
The password on your account has successfully been changed. Please use your new password to login.
This website is set to 'allow all cookies' for the best user experience. By continuing without changing this setting, you are consenting to this. You may change your settings at any time at the bottom of this page.