Nephi Craig, Executive Chef of the fine dining restaurant at White Mountain Apache Tribe Sunrise Park Resort Hotel, will return to defend his 2012 title at this year's EXPO AIGA Chef's Challenge at Desert Diamond Casino, Tucson. Craig is White Mountain Apache and Navajo and his cuisine combines classical French training with the traditions of his people. "French tradition isn't my tradition," Craig said. "I wanted to cook in the tradition of the Apache and Navajo."
Craig explained that Native people are emerging from what he calls 'the great interruption in Native food ways'. "Pre-contact, we were expert farmers, hunters, gatherers, fishermen and cooks. Native foods are not a trend; they are a way to recover our communities," he said.
Craig graduated from culinary school in 2000 and worked in The Phoenician Resort's fine dining restaurant, Mary Elaine's, which was Arizona's only five-star French restaurant. In 2009 Craig was hired by White Mountain Tribe's Sunrise Park and began concentrating on cuisine that emphasizes indigenous foods. He also founded the Native American Culinary Association.
Craig will compete against Arizona's best casino and resort chefs at the Chef's Challenge "Cuisine Beyond Borders",Thursday, November 7, 2013 at Desert Diamond Casino. Each chef must be a fulltime employee of an Arizona tribally-owned enterprise, restaurant or kitchen. Cuisine will be judged on plate presentation, creativity, originality and taste. A panel of three celebrity judges will select "Overall Best in Show," and guests will vote for their favorite dish for the "People's Choice" award.
Celebrity judges include Nora Burba Trulsson, Greg Morago, and Donna Nordin. Trulsson is a freelance writer, author and editor specializing in travel, food, lifestyle, design and sustainability whose articles have appeared in Sunset, U.S. Airways Magazine, Arizona Highways, Phoenix Magazine, Chicago Tribune and other publications.
Morago grew up in Sacaton, Ariz. and is a member of Gila River Indian Community. He comes from a family of good cooks on both sides of his family (Pima and Mexican-American). He currently is the food editor for the Houston Chronicle. Before joining the Chronicle he was the restaurant critic for the Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn. He is a national restaurant judge for the James Beard Foundation's annual chef and restaurant awards. He also is a member and past officer of the Association of Food Journalists, a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and a founding member of Foodways Texas, an organization that preserves, promotes and celebrates the diverse food cultures of Texas.
Donna Nordin is the former owner/chef of Café Terra Cotta in Tucson, Arizona. She studied at Le Cordon Bleu and Lenotre Pastry School in Paris. Donna is active in the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and Les Dames D'Escoffier and was the 1993 James Beard nominee for Best Chef Southwest. She was inducted into Arizona's Culinary Hall of Fame in 1994 and received IACP's Award of Excellence for Chefs in 1999.
Participants in the 2013 "Cuisine Beyond Borders" Chef's Challenge include:
- Apache Gold Casino Resort (San Carlos Apache Tribe), Chef Mat Ferrin
- Casino del Sol Resort (Pascua Yaqui Tribe), Chef Enrique Alcantar
- Desert Diamond Casinos (Tohono O'odham Nation), Chef Pascual Rodriguez
- Fort McDowell Casino (Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation), Chef Hung Dinh
- Sunrise Resort (White Mountain Apache Tribe) (Reigning Champion!) Chef Nephi Craig
- Talking Stick Resort (Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community), Chef Ron Dimas