Stories / Interviews

Ask the Chefs: Chris Newstrom and Brent Karlicek of Phoenix's Upward Projects

Hilary Deutsch

Hilary Deutsch

August 05, 2015


From scoop to slice and growler to glass, the Upward Projects restaurants seem to have an answer for Phoenix diners’ every hunger pang. On August 20, chef Chris Newstrom and beverage director Brent Karlicek will bring their culinary cornucopia to the Beard House for a sampling of the Southwest. Read on to hear how Ben Franklin fits into their equation and why embracing local food has become a fixture in their restaurants.


Who’s been your biggest inspiration?

CN: I've had too many inspirations throughout my career to pick just one. I would say that always pushing yourself and being surrounded by great people is the key to being inspired.

BK: Bobby Stuckey, the renowned master sommelier based in Boulder, Colorado, because in addition to his vast knowledge of wine, he's such an incredible ambassador for the hospitality industry.

What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?

BK: Living and working in Phoenix, our menu will be representative of both the Southwest in specific, and the West in general, including lots of bold, flavorful, sun-drenched flavors. That is, of course, in addition to playing off the casual, from scratch, farm-fresh food and beverage culture that comprises Upward Projects.

What’s your guilty-pleasure food? 

CN: All of the ice creams at our shop, Churn. Oh man, the Mint Chocolate Chip is sooooo good.

BK: My wife and I love to make pizza from scratch, pop a bottle of Barolo, and settle in for a movie. Highly indulgent, great moments.

Tell us about the last great meal you ate.

BK: I had the pleasure of experiencing 24 courses at Mugaritz in San Sebastián, Spain last month. What a beautiful flow of dishes: some traditional in style, some inspired by molecular gastronomy, and all surprising and delicious. We left grinning from ear to ear.

If you could cook one meal for any person (historical, famous, living, or dead), who would be and what you serve them?

CN: Stevie Ray Vaughan. My father took me to see him when I was eight (it was my first concert!). I would make him fried chicken with succotash and cotton candy for dessert.

BK: I’d love the opportunity to cook and imbibe with Ben Franklin. A simple roast, a bottle of Madeira, and stellar conversation.

What was your first job in the industry? Who gave you your first big break? 

CN: I was a server when I was 15 years old, working in an assisted living facility. Wow, how I've changed.

BK: I'll always be grateful for my first restaurant gig in Santa Barbara, California. It was the first time I made a connection between the importance of incredible ingredients and the value of embracing the local bounty. My experiences working there over a few summers inspired a lifetime of curiosity and excitement about the industry.

What are the best places to eat in your city these days? 
CN: Chef Cullen Campbell's Crudo is great. Another little place I love eating at in the 'hood is Akaihana Sushi & Grill—very good sushi. Another winner is Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails; chef Sean Currid is doing great things there.

BK: Phoenix is a wellspring of culinary creativity, as of late. I’m inspired by the creativity and execution of our friends at Crudo, FnB, and Nobuo at Teeter House. Not to be missed local haunts would also include Little Miss BBQ, and the Clever Koi for steamed buns.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 

BK: Say yes to almost everything.