Chef Mark Tarbell is passionate about promoting “local” at his Tarbell’s restaurant, located at 32nd Street and Camelback Road (photo by Darryl Webb for North Central News).

Mark Tarbell is getting ready for a photo, standing in front of a large, colorful painting in his Tarbell’s restaurant on Camelback. He takes time to pull on a Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers T-shirt, but doesn’t bother to comb his hair, rumpled from an hour of absent-mindedly running his hands through it as he talks about food, wine and culinary careers.

Promoting “local” – whether it’s produce, chickens or rock bands – seems paramount to the renowned chef, more so than polishing his own image.

On this day, he’s talking about his passion for local foods that end up center-plate at Tarbell’s and other notable Valley restaurants. These quality ingredients are grown and produced in all corners of the state – and, happily for North Central residents, are available in local farmer’s markets, including Tarbell’s favorite, Uptown Farmer’s Market at Central Avenue and Bethany Home Road.

The proliferating markets are part of Arizona’s blossoming food scene, a process that has taken the state to a position of prominence in the country’s culinary pantheon.

“It’s growing and changing and getting better all the time,” Tarbell said, and while he wouldn’t make that claim for himself, the renowned chef is one reason that is so.

His passion for fresh, local produce comes from his roots in New England, Tarbell said. “I remember the beauty of strawberries and wild raspberries and blueberries in Maine, and native Maine shrimp. As kids we’d steal tomatoes out of Mom’s garden and eat them like apples, with the juice running down our arms. We had apple trees that grew wild around us – all of that was how it started.”

It continued with his training in France, including École de Cuisine La Varenne and Steven Spurrier’s Academie du Vin.

“I am a taste and flavor person,” Tarbell said. “I’ve always been that way, even before I became a chef.” He looks at a bottle of water on the table before him. “Right now, I’m analyzing the taste of this water, the texture, flavor balance, minerality.”

It’s about economics as well, he said. “To me, if it was grown here, by a farmer – organic or not but who had some good practices – it was going to be fresh and taste better. And it keeps the money in the community. As a small business that had value to me, and that’s why I started 30 years ago, trying to find people who were growing.

“This is a very agricultural valley,” Tarbell said. But that produce didn’t always end up on local tables. “Years ago, organic lettuces grown here were sent to California’s wholesale markets. I remember RoxSand and I saying, ‘Can’t we just take a little for here?’ and them saying, ‘No, we don’t want to do retail or sell to restaurants.’ Eventually we won, and the Duncan family was important in that effort.” (Duncan Family Farms, originally in Goodyear, now grows a wide variety of certified-organic produce in Maricopa, Oregon and Upstate New York.)

RoxSand Scocos McCreary is the former chef of RoxSand in Biltmore Fashion Park, one of a long list of Arizona culinary lights – many of them James Beard Award winners – Tarbell credits as early adopters who helped elevate the state’s cuisine while promoting locally grown and produced foodstuffs.

“They were leading the way when I came to Camelback,” he said. “They were out there trying to make things happen.”

The list includes Robert McGrath (Market Street Kitchen), Christopher Gross (Christopher’s), Vincent Guerithault (Vincent’s), and Eddie Matney (Eddie’s House) and Charleen Badman (FnB).

“Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Bianco) has always been passionate about this,” Tarbell said. “He and Bob McClendon (an organic farmer with fields in Peoria and Goodyear) have a great relationship.” Bianco also has supported expansion of Arizona-grown flour varieties, working with producers like the Zimmerman family and their Hayden Mills.

Demand spiked for high-quality, locally grown ingredients, leading to the proliferation of small producers and farmers and an abundance that chefs only dreamed of in the ’90s.

“Now there are lots of small and medium-size growers in established businesses all over the state and here in the Valley – people doing mushrooms and all kinds of crazy fun stuff, like lambs, and very specially produced cattle like Moon River,” Tarbell said

Noble Bread’s Jason Raducha is an example. Raducha started the bakery in his North Phoenix home in 2012. “I remember he would ask me, ‘Can you buy my stuff? I’m making it in my garage,’” Tarbell said. “It was cool stuff!”

Chefs weren’t the only ones to benefit. Much of this bounty is on farmer’s market tables, even in the summer months when markets like Uptown head indoors. McClendon’s produce, Noble breads and Moon River beef and eggs all are available there.

“I think it’s a natural evolution,” Tarbell said. “A lot of the farmer’s markets were more for show and less for go at the beginning, Today, there’s more interest in it, and people are figuring out how to be better at it and more efficient. It’s going really well. The Uptown market is probably the best one that I’m aware of. There’s a really great one at Roadrunner Park too.”

Being a parent means Tarbell spends most Saturday mornings chauffeuring his kids to games and other events – and he’s fine with that because his team, led by chef Adrian de Leon, takes on the shopping.

“We’re looking for anything we can feature, any vegetable or produce, because to me, all of those things deserve to be on the center of the plate and highlighted,” he said.

“I’ve always been interested in vegetables. They take on a whole different feel if you caramelize them or sauté them or put them in a wood oven or an air-dryer. They’re so diverse.

“Right from the beginning I’ve always as a chef and a restaurateur been interested in getting the best of the world to Arizona, to us here in Tarbell’s.”

Some of his favorite local products are McClendon’s greenhouse tomatoes, poultry and eggs from Two Wash Ranch in New River, mushrooms from Hypha Farms and goat cheese from Crow’s Dairy in Buckeye, all of which are available at the Uptown Farmer’s Market.

Ranch owner Dave Jordan “is the best guy for chicken on the planet,” Tarbell said.

Wendell Crow’s goat cheeses appear on more than 100 restaurant menus throughout the Valley. “I’m a cheese snob,” Tarbell said. “When I lived in France I was obsessed with it. In my view, the Loire Valley – especially the eastern end of it – has probably the best goat cheese in the world, and I thought, Arizona cheese? Not going to work. Then I tasted it and thought, oh my gosh, he nails it.”

As a member of the board of C-Cap Arizona, a division of the national Careers through Culinary Arts program, Tarbell supports and promotes another local “crop” – young people entering the culinary industry. The program is in more than 60 Arizona high schools, teaching culinary skills along with teamwork, math and life skills.

“I have a lifelong passion for learning and helping and mentoring and teaching,” Tarbell said. “I’ve lived my life in two modes: being very curious and a lifelong learner and also wanting to mentor, help and share and give back.”

These days, in addition to his numerous other businesses – Tarbell’s Restaurant, T’s Tavern & Wine Bar, The Wine Store, T’s Catering ‘n Special Events, NG Hospitality, Cultivate Wine Bar, and at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, The Tavern in Terminal 3 and T’s Express in Terminal 4 – Tarbell is planning to open The Vault Speakeasy later this year. And he’s focusing on a new project, Tarbell’s Cha Cha Mouche, a subscription wine club.

“I couldn’t do it without a fantastic team,” he said. “I have the greatest team ever.”

“I always wanted to make wine in California and France,” he said. Today, he leases organic vineyards in both areas and makes wine in facilities rented from established wineries, a traditional path for start-ups.

“I’m doing Char/Cap/Pinot (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir) in a very Euro, naturally produced, French-style. What I’m really excited about is Carignan, Pic Poul, Petit Verdot. Pic Poul is usually used in blending, but I make a sparkling Pic Poul in true Champagne style. The Carignan is from vines planted in the 1890s.”

Cha Cha Mouche launched in 14 states in January, sending wine direct to subscribers’ homes. “It’s been a five-year project,” Tarbell said. “It’s a lot of fun, like a dance party in a bottle.”

Tarbell’s, at 3213 E. Camelback Road, is open from 5 to 10 p.m., daily. For more information, call 602-955-8100, or visit

The Uptown Farmer’s Market, 5757 N. Central Ave., is open during summer from 7 to 11 a.m., Saturday. For information, call or text 602-859-5648, or visit


  • Marjorie Rice

    Marjorie Rice is an award-winning journalist, newspaper food editor, travel editor and cookbook editor with more than three decades' experience writing about the culinary industry.

    View all posts

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