Phoenix is continually gaining notoriety in the national culinary scene, and part of that is thanks to Joanie Simon. The 31-year-old Phoenix resident, who is a general manager at her family’s 40-plus-year-old business Copperstate Restaurant Technologies, hosts a weekly Arizona-focused dining podcast every Wednesday at 3 p.m. Arizona time at restaurantliveaz.com. On the hour-long podcast, she interviews local restaurant personalities, ranging from head chefs to cocktail creators, in an effort to bring more recognition to the massive amount of culinary talent the Valley has to offer. Simon talked about her views of Arizona dining below, as well as five reasons why she loves living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’m a third-generation native, in the sense my parents were in college when I was born in Portland, Ore. I moved here when I was 3 years old. I went to North Ranch Elementary School, Desert Shadows Middle School and Horizon High School. I got an art history degree from Arizona State University and a Master’s in counseling from Shippensburg University. I was working for residence halls for about 10 years, at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., then at Juilliard, then my husband and I moved back to Arizona to start a family in 2009.
What is your first memory of being passionate about food?
I’ve always loved food and have watched Food Network since I was a little kid. I always wanted to cook and be in the kitchen. I remember making chicken Tandoori when I was 12 years old. I was determined to make homemade pasta, and it was probably the most horrible thing my mom ever ate in her life. I really started becoming interested in expanding my palate after I moved to New York.
What is your favorite Valley restaurant?
My favorite restaurant is Petite Maison because I love the people there, the food is consistent and creative, and there’s a beautiful atmosphere — but it has to do with the people who are there.
With the amount of energy running a restaurant takes, why do you think people are so passionate about getting into this industry?
I really don’t know. I think it’s just one of those things that, when you’re doing what you love, it just works. I worked in a restaurant kitchen for a night. Seeing these guys had worked five days straight and 15-hour days, and they still had smiles on their faces, to me, showed they loved it. It’s an adrenaline rush, and the environment takes a certain personality.
How did Restaurant Live AZ get started?
I’ve gotten to know a lot of chefs through my work at Copperstate and being passionate about the restaurant industry. One day, I ended up talking to local radio personality Dave Pratt, who had started this Internet radio station called Doublewide Network. We were chatting about the advertising side, and he mentioned he was looking for shows. I asked him if he had considered a show about food, since it’s a growing category in media. I volunteered to start a show, and our first episode was in March this year.
What benefits and challenges does a podcast format bring?
There might be preconceived notions of what we’re doing that this is not professional, that this is just me and a microphone wandering the streets, but this is in a professional setting with professional editors. What’s great is that there are no rules. I want to keep it mostly family-friendly, but if a chef drops an F-bomb, I don’t have to worry about getting hunted down by the FCC. I can do whatever commercials I want. It’s me dictating the process, and I don’t have to sell myself out to some radio empire to put out whatever their agenda is.
What has been your most memorable moment from the show?
The wildest episode was with chefs Christopher Gross (of Christopher’s Crush) and James Porter (of Petite Maison.) The two of them are BFF’s and hang out on a regular basis and are known for their massive consumption of scotch. It was the two of them and a bottle of Laphroaig on the show, and it was like herding cats.
One of my favorite episodes was when I had Gabriele Bertaccini, who does Il Tocco and Culinary Mischief, and he’s Italian and fabulous. I speak a little bit of Italian, so he instantly warmed up. We had Richard Betts, who is a wine broker, and they’re good friends. They were great in that they had a lot to say, and there was no lack in conversation.
What’s your view of the restaurant scene in the Valley, and what do we need to improve?
Arizona is a weird place. Having grown up here, I know every year, it seems there are new and innovative people coming out with creative things, and for that, I hope to see that trend continue. We have some James Beard-worthy chefs who are getting recognized in the national scene.
At the same time, we’re a very casual dining environment. I don’t think we should change that. There are very few places where, if you don’t have a reservation, you can’t get into, and I kind of like that. It’s also a better price point here. We have a lot of advantages in terms of access and the level of cuisine being served here.
It is a rather chain-driven destination. I don’t know if that will ever change, but that’s why the show is so important to me, because I really like what the local people are doing. Rather than go to a chain, you can go somewhere local that’s comparable but has better ingredients and more of a story behind what they’re doing.
Why is supporting local restaurants so important?
It keeps the money here, and it’s the relationship with the people. You need to take care of your friends.
What’s your favorite bar?
Citizen Public House never disappoints me. It’s one of those places where you can go in, and even if you don’t know a lot about cocktails, you can tell them what you like, and you’ll get a good drink. I do spend a lot of time at the Searsucker bar after the show. I like Market Street Kitchen.
Do you have any interviewing tips you’ve gleaned from doing the show?
I try to be myself, so if a guest is going someplace bizarre or inappropriate, I’m not going to follow along with them. I want my content to be widely applicable, and I don’t want to alienate people. I want to be relatable. I try to make the interview focused.
Do you have any tips for staying cool under pressure?
I think it’s a matter of practice. For the first couple weeks, I felt like I had no business doing any sort of broadcasting, but I got more comfortable. It’s having confidence. As long as nobody is dying, and nothing is on fire, we’re good.
What are some of the most significant things you’ve learned from doing the show?
One of the things everyone told me when I first started was that chefs weren’t going to want to leave their restaurants, because they’re too busy, but every week, there are three people in the studio. When you’re putting something out there people appreciate, you’re being generous, and it’s a good thing, people will respond to that. It’s believing in your idea and trusting your gut. I continue to go down the rabbit hole of who these people are and why they do what they do. I continue to try to figure it out.
What are your goals?
I would love to see the show grow in terms of helping people find out about new restaurants, connecting them to ones they don’t know about, and trying to bring together the community of restaurants. You think of restaurants being competitive with each other, but they’re not, they support each other.
I’d love to write a book that’s leadership-related. As much as I love food, I love leadership, and I think it’s neat to see the different leadership styles in restaurants.
What advice would you have for people interested in starting a podcast?
It depends on why they’re getting into it. The technical stuff can be overwhelming, and I was fortunate enough to have the relationship with Dave Pratt and be able to collaborate with his network to not have to worry about the technical part. I am able to pour into it my professional development in terms of radio presence and good content.
I think a really important thing is to listen to a lot of podcasts and radio shows and find what you like. I’m an NPR addict and listen to all those shows. I’m not trying to be “The Splendid Table,” but I really value what (host Lynne Rossetto) is doing. You have to be passionate about your subject matter, and for me, it’s been about not making it about me, but making it about the people on the show.