Saddle Up For a Good Time at Cadillac Ranch
That is the motto at Tempe Marketplace’s Cadillac Ranch, and I believe there is no tagline that could be more fitting for Chef Chris Osborn’s first restaurant. Don’t be confused by the name, this is not a franchise. Although there are several Cadillac Ranch’s out there, and you may even see Chris’ location on the chain’s website, they are only affiliated in the sense that they were commissioned to construct the 10,000 square foot restaurant.
Cadillac Ranch is a dream that started out after he graduated from ASU studying Pre-Law. He had worked in the restaurant industry throughout his college experience and as graduation was looming, he realized that as much as he had appreciated the education he had received, he felt he may have had another calling. Though his family certainly had their reservations, he felt supported to pursue his dream and gave himself a time-limit. He says, “I set a goal and I said, ‘If I don’t own my own place by the time I’m 30, then I’ll go back to law school’ – because people do that all the time. And, I did it so…no law school for me.” And I believe we are all luckier people for that!
Chris has worked for some of the biggest names in Arizona – Paul Fleming and Sam Fox to name a few. These powerhouses ignited a flame of passion and creativity in him that you can see in his desire to make Cadillac Ranch the best that it can be. He is constantly creating and testing out new and creative dishes on his staff and loyal customers. There are many items that have found their way to the menu via trial and error in his own home kitchen. One such item is the AZ Mac-n-Cheese.
The dish was created using leftovers that he had on hand and a desire to stay in. He made the dish from some rotisserie chicken, leftover cheese and some roasted poblano peppers. Upon tasting, his fiancé told him it was amazing and he was then prompted to make it for the staff at the restaurant. Of the tasting, Chris said the staff told him, “If you don’t put this on the menu, you’re crazy.” (This dish beat out ticket sales for all other dishes at the 2008 Scottsdale Culinary Festival – so you know this is good stuff!) And so he did, along with one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, the Bacon Wontons.
(Trust me when I say this – these are ridiculously good!) Chris was able to use his Asian inspiration (from a long stint at PF Chang’s) and some motivation from a show on the Food Network featuring the awesomeness of bacon and create what can be referred to as a fusion of a Chinese appetizer and American breakfast foods. This fried little treat is so incredible that when Food Network’s Robert Irvine was in town doing a speaking engagement at the Desert Botanical Gardens and visited Cadillac Ranch, he devoured an order in house and then ordered one to-go. The to-go order ended up in the hands and stomach of his Food Network producer who was so enamored by the tasty fried treat that he contacted Chris and let him know that if they film another, “Best Thing I Ever Ate-Bacon” episode, he was definitely going to be featured. Not to mention that after this producer lest the Food Network and traveled to NBC with Guy Fieri (for the show Minute To Win It), the producer contacted Chris and local auditions for contestants were held at Cadillac Ranch.
Chris is very serious about his restaurant – from the menu, the décor, the drinks and his staff. More than anything he really wants to involve the staff and customers in the creative process. When he comes up with a new concept he welcomes everyone’s opinions. If he feels he has something really great to share, you’ll find him in the back putting something together and having them passed to tables just to get that feedback. While there are certainly some very successful hits, there have been some misses – but that’s all part of the process that has helped to make him and his concept so successful. Trust, though, that anything that you find at Cadillac Ranch has been fine tuned, tested and tasted by a multitude of people before finding its way to your menu. You will not find anything canned or frozen lurking in the back kitchen. Chris prides himself on the freshness and originality of all of the ingredients, believing that is what sets him apart from other places and notes that his customers have come to expect and appreciate that. Chris believes quite strongly that food is “the added bonus to life and civilization because it brings families together and when you enjoy food, instead of just eating it, it adds to the quality of your life.” He and his staff work very hard to ensure that you enjoy your food here.
Although Chris may have had no formal culinary training, it would seem that food and the industry was his destiny. His family worked in the restaurant industry while he was growing up. He had an Uncle who managed Carlos O’Brien’s and his mother managed TeePee for 20 years. His first job was as a host and bus boy at TeePee at age 14. Throughout law school he worked as a bartender, a server and eventually as a manger with the PF Chang’s company during his last year. With that position he was required to work for 3 months in the kitchen and that’s when the light went off. He honestly enjoys each and every part of the business, from working on the mixology aspects, creating dishes, all the music, all the way down to the marketing aspect. “All that stuff is something that I wake up every day and look forward to.” While he was busy at school studying law, he was most excited about getting out of class and heading to his restaurant job. It’s been an 11 year journey, working in different establishments in the Valley, getting all of the experience that he could all the while realizing when to move on to the next step until someone had the confidence in him to invest in him and his ideas. The goal of Cadillac Ranch is to hit on 3 levels: a great restaurant, a fun place to come in and watch your favorite team battle it out, and on the weekend, come in and dance your face off in the nightclub. Chris feels that it his ultimate accomplishment that he’s been able to successfully incorporate all three of these concepts under one roof.
Look for some new concepts from Chris in the near future – so top secret that I couldn’t get so much as a little hint. Until then, make sure you check out their fantastic line up for the SuperBowl. They are planning on having a huge party complete with their own Fear Factor themed half time show with huge giveaways. Also on the schedule, their 3rd anniversary party on 2/20/11. Look for all day Customer Appreciation prices as well as 3 resident DJ’s at nightfall. There will also be a new version of the menu being rolled out in February.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with Chris, he is dedicated and passionate about what he has created. This shines through the food, ambiance and staff. Make sure if you haven’t been to the Cadillac Ranch at Tempe Marketplace that you give them a chance to wow you with the food and service, and if you already have been, share your experiences with us!
For a full transcript of the interview and to learn some interesting bits on Chef Chris, click here.