Branden Levine: Executive Chef at Cafe Monarch

Branden Lavine, executive chef at Cafe Monarch in Old Town Scottsdale, photographed at the restaurant, by Nicki Escudero

Branden Levine, executive chef at Cafe Monarch in Old Town Scottsdale, photographed at the restaurant, by Nicki Escudero

Branden Levine
facebook.com/CafeMonarch

It’s a good thing Branden Levine finished second place on the Food Network‘s Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell back in September. Instead of moving to Napa, California, the 41-year-old Phoenix resident is whipping up unique, mouthwatering contemporary American specialities at the absolutely gorgeous Cafe Monarch in Old Town Scottsdale. With a three-course prix fixe menu that changes weekly, Levine is able to incorporate organic, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients into every dish, keeping customers coming back for more since he never repeats a menu.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida native is gearing up for a Mother’s Day brunch, Sunday, May 11, including seared lobster cake on toasted brioche. The brunch is unique not only because of the holiday, but also because Cafe Monarch is usually only open for dinner. Get more details on the brunch here.

Learn more about what drives Levine’s culinary creativity, and scroll down to watch him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

My wife and I moved out here about a year and a half ago from Virginia. I worked in Washington, D.C., but the restaurant I was working at closed down after about 10 years of being open.

My wife’s brother and his wife are partners with a home healthcare company here, and they offered her a position in marketing. That’s what led us out here. Continue reading

Mark Dix: Founder of The Downtown Chamber Series, Violist with Phoenix Symphony

Mark Dix, founder and director of Downtown Chamber Series and violist with Phoenix Symphony, photographed at Phoenix Civic Space Park, by Nicki Escudero

Mark Dix, founder and director of The Downtown Chamber Series and violist with Phoenix Symphony, photographed at Phoenix Civic Space Park, by Nicki Escudero

Mark Dix
twitter.com/DTChamberSeries

Mark Dix gives orchestral music in the Valley an edgy twist. The violist for the Phoenix Symphony is the founder and director of The Downtown Chamber Series, which pairs orchestral performers with art gallery settings, for a transfixing aural and visual experience. The 43-year-old Phoenix resident won his Phoenix Symphony position in 1995, and then started Downtown Chamber Series in 2000. The Colorado native is also a talented violinist who teaches violin and viola and moderates the Phoenix Symphony String Ensemble Classroom Concerts.

Catch the next stunning Downtown Chamber Series concert Tuesday, June 10 at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale. The concert features Ben Sollee, a cellist/singer-songwriter, along with a string quartet and clarinet.

Learn how Dix hopes to contribute to the Valley through his music, and watch him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley, below.

What brought you to Arizona?

Orchestral musicians don’t pick the city we want to live in and then move there, because there are so few jobs. We open the union newspaper, called the International Musician, and in the back are listings of job openings for orchestras. We then fly at our own expense to those cities and take a rigorous audition. If we win, we move.

The year I was auditioning, in ’95, there were openings in Buffalo (N.Y.), Phoenix and another city. I moved here from New York City after going to grad school at the Manhattan School of Music. I also have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Continue reading

Stacey Reed Hanlon: The Torch Theatre Improviser, Actor

Stacey Reed Hanlon, The Torch Theatre improviser and actor, photographed in downtown Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Stacey Reed Hanlon, The Torch Theatre improviser and actor, photographed in downtown Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Stacey Reed Hanlon
twitter.com/TheTorchTheatre

Stacey Reed Hanlon is one of the Valley’s funniest performers. As a veteran actress who got her improvising start in New York City, Reed has brought her natural knack for creating zany characters with strong personalities to Phoenix, helping found the Valley’s longform improv theater The Torch Theatre.

Reed Hanlon, a 37-year-old Phoenix resident and client specialist at Standard Printing Company, has been performing improv in the Valley for almost 10 years, in notable troupes such as Mail Order Bride, Light Rail Pirates, JaxN Reed, and The Foundation. She’s also an instructor at Valley Youth Theatre and The Torch Theatre, and does private musical theater coaching and improv troupe coaching. The talented improviser also has serious acting chops, having taken the stage for memorable gems such as A Bloody Mary Christmas at Space 55.

You can catch Reed Hanlon on stage with Mail Order Bride, Light Rail Pirates and JaxN Reed at the 13th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival, taking place this Thursday, April 17 through Saturday, April 19, at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. Read on what drives her passion for theater, as well as to watch her talk about her favorite reasons for living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’m originally from Clinton, Ohio and went to college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to study English and French. I had always wanted to live in New York, and I moved there after college and worked in public relations for about seven years.

I met my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, whose parents had retired here. He moved here to be closer to family and really enjoyed the change of pace. I went through some professional changes in New York, and I missed him, so I decided to give Arizona a try and come out for a year, back in 2005. Here I am nine years later. I never would have thought I’d be living in Phoenix, and I never thought I would move across the country for a boy! Continue reading

John Costello, III: Wild Whirled Music and Fervor Records Co-Owner, Producer

John Costello III, Wild Whirled Music and Fervor Records president, co-founder and co-owner, and music producer, photographed at his studio in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

John Costello III, music producer and Wild Whirled Music and Fervor Records president, co-founder and co-owner, photographed at his studio in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

John Costello, III
twitter.com/JC3Music

John Costello, III writes so much music that’s used for TV and film, sometimes he doesn’t even know a song he’s written has been used in a show or movie until he’s watching it. The 50-year-old Scottsdale resident has written more than 1,000 songs and has released 10 albums, and as co-owner, co-founder and president of local label Fervor Records and music licensing company Wild Whirled Music, the songwriter and producer is responsible for creating soundtracks for everything from popular sitcoms to groundbreaking movies.

A collection of some of his remixed tracks, appropriately titled The Remixes, comes out Tuesday, April 29, and you can hear his music in the trailer for upcoming film Walk of Shame. He also has three songs featured in the upcoming Philip Seymour Hoffman film, God’s Pocket.

Get to know the musician, who talks about how local musicians can get involved with the label, better below, and keep reading to see a video of Costello name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

My parents moved out here when I was in 7th grade. My grandparents were retiring, so I got transplanted. I left Chicago kicking and screaming, because I thought it was so incredible, but I’m happy my family moved out here. I had some health issues as a little kid, asthma and allergies, so Chicago was a really bad place to live. I went to Paradise Valley High School, and ASU for a short time. Continue reading