Cooking with Fire with Aaron Chamberlin
The Art of Cooking With Fire from a Modern-Day Boy Scout
Chef Aaron Chamberlin Masters Wood-Fired Cooking at St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Café
Phoenix – Valley Chef and Restaurateur Aaron Chamberlin first learned to cook over a wood fire as a young Boy Scout. Decades later he’s centered his two popular restaurants around wood-fired cuisine, a cooking technique he says delivers the best when it comes to quality and flavor of almost any dish.
At his uptown Phoenix restaurant St. Francis, Chamberlin uses a custom six-foot, wood-burning oven to turn out a rotating menu of seasonal roasted dishes while at his downtown Phoenix establishment, Phoenix Public Market Café, a wood-fired rotisserie creates slow-cooked meats that star in variety of dishes. At both restaurants, Chamberlin uses a blend of mesquite wood, which adds a nice flavor, and almond wood, which is a very hard wood that burns hot.
Using a variety of woods from mesquite and oak to fruit woods like applewood creates a savory smokiness, while the high heat from burning embers delivers a crisp texture to meat and vegetable skins. Allowing vegetables, in particular, to char creates incredible flavor for the base of soups, dips and so much more. Cooking over fire at home, as much as in the kitchens of his restaurants, Chamberlin says wood-fired cooking infuses food with a mild to robust smokiness that can’t be achieved any other way.
Even better, cooking over fire requires very few tools, just a great pair of tongs, a spatula, a tool to move around coals and a high-quality cooking wood. Chamberlin also likes to experiment with cooking on a variety of surfaces from a traditional grill grate to cooking directly on hot charcoals for highly caramelized texture and flavor and using a smooth cast iron surface called a “plancha” that can allow you to cook multiple things at once in different ways such as searing meats while stir-frying vegetables.
“So many people are familiar with grilling on a traditional gas or charcoal grill, but the idea of cooking over an open fire can be intimidating, but it really shouldn’t be,” said Chamberlin. “Cooking over a wood-fire is one of the most primitive methods of cooking, its simple, doesn’t require a lot of tools and infuses food with flavors you simply can’t get any other way.”
Some of Chamberlin’s most crave-worthy, wood-fired dishes at St. Francis include Fire Roasted Eggplant Dip ($9) made with charred eggplant, yogurt, pine nuts, fresno chili peppers, smoked paprika and served with warm bread; Wood Fired Vegetable Flatbread ($12) with spinach, roasted peppers, charred onions, spaghetti squash, avocado and lemon and Two Wash Ranch Roasted Chicken ($26) with crispy fingerling potatoes, sautéed spinach, lemon and salsa verde. At Phoenix Public Market Café, Chamberlin’s signature dish is the Wood-Fired Rotisserie Chicken ($13) slow-cooked over a hardwood fire and Tito’s Cubano ($12) made with rotisserie pork topped with black forest ham, pickles, swiss cheese, mustard on a housemade baguette.
One of Chamberlin’s trade secrets for all things cooked with fire at his restaurants and at home is a great marinade that is ideal for all types of meats, fish and vegetables. The following is his go-to recipe for marinating everything from meats and fish to vegetables.
Chef Aaron Chamberlin’s Marinade
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 sprig of rosemary, crushed
1 sprig of thyme, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ olive oil
Salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste
For more information about St. Francis visit http://stfrancisaz.com/ or call 602-200-8111. For more information about Phoenix Public Market Café, visit http://phxpublicmarket.com/cafe or call 602-253-2700
About St. Francis
Tucked along the historic crossroads of Central Avenue and Camelback Road in uptown Phoenix, St. Francis is a modern yet comfortable family-owned restaurant with a rustic sensibility serving wood-fired cuisine with an emphasis on quality, seasonal ingredients delivered daily from local farmers and the integrity of simple flavors. The centerpiece of St. Francis is a custom wood-burning oven that uses mesquite for its smokiness and almond for its heat. Nearly every dish has a component that comes out of the oven, whether it’s roasted meats that are highlights of the entrees or roasted vegetables that are pureed to make sauce. As the first restaurant concept developed by local restaurateur Aaron Chamberlin, St. Francis was created to truly nourish the community and serve the neighborhood in a 1950s building that blends historic and modern architecture, a charming vine-covered patio with a roaring fireplace, daily happy hour and just for families, a toy box and free meals for children under 12 years old. St. Francis is open for lunch and dinner daily and weekend brunch. For more information, visit stfrancisaz.com or call 602.200.8111.
About Phoenix Public Market Café
Located in the heart of downtown Phoenix, Phoenix Public Market Café is a casual urban hangout for breakfast, lunch and dinner offering fresh market cuisine with ingredients sourced directly from the adjacent farmer’s market. The simple, health-focused menu includes hearty sandwiches on house-baked bread, robust salads, fresh-baked pastries and slow-cooked meats hot off the wood-roasted rotisserie. It has become a gathering place for the Downtown Phoenix community to enjoy a meal in the casual dining room, a cup of coffee and pastry on the patio or a glass of local wine at the full bar. The Café now offers full-service catering with free delivery, up to four miles, and curbside to-go. Created by restaurateur Aaron Chamberlin, the Café opened in 2012 following the success of sister restaurant St. Francis. For more information, visit http://phxpublicmarket.com/cafe/ or call 602.253.2700.