I didn’t know that bread came from a store!” These words came from young chef Mark Tarbell at age 11. He started cooking at a very young age with his mother, who recognized his love for eating as he not-so-discreetly stole bread and cookie dough while she baked. Upon this realization, she involved him in the kitchen, starting with baking homemade bread, which she did consistently for more than a decade.
However, the “big launch” towards the rest of his life occurred when he received a copy of Jacques Pepin’s La Technique at the age of 14. Absolutely obsessed with the material, he studied it and started cooking for family meals, lobster bakes and holidays. It came to him naturally and passionately, but when his grandmother first asked him if he was interested in a culinary-based career, he had never considered turning into a profession.
Before the days of Food Network or any accessible culture of notable American chefs for him to follow, what was at first a crazy question evolved into Mark Tarbell becoming a culinary apprentice in Amsterdam, Holland a few years later and completing culinary school at École de Cuisine La Varenne and wine school at Steven Spurrier’s Académie du Vin in Paris.
Tarbell moved to Arizona 34 years ago with the education, desire and determination to leave his culinary mark. From becoming the youngest Food & Beverage Director of any Five Diamond property in the world at The Boulders Resort to opening his fine-dining, upscale restaurant Tarbell’s, to hosting the award-winning Plate & Pour on Arizona PBS and owning a wine store—whew!—today, he is an accomplished expert on all things food and wine. And he has taken the lead on the local Phoenix, Arizona restaurant scene, with a most notable global reputation that brings in guests from around the world including celebrities and rockstars.
His love for cooking has three main foundational elements: the unlimited creativity, the seemingly undaunting challenges of cooking which brings on massive doses of adrenaline and the quiet peace that comes with chaos.
His love for cooking has three main foundational elements: the unlimited creativity, the seemingly undaunting challenges of cooking which brings on massive doses of adrenaline and the quiet peace that comes with chaos. He finds complete joy in cooking for others, claiming that, these days, he often cooks for family, friends and loved ones.
“It’s also fun for me to make it a collaborative team project with whomever I am cooking for,” Tarbell said. “I love challenges, like cooking an entire meal with a BIC lighter and roll of aluminum foil in the middle of the desert.”
In the wake of a global pandemic Mark’s restaurant Tarbell’s, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, was met with complications that plagued the entire hospitality industry. As stay-at-home orders fell into place and Phoenix-based restaurants shut down, Tarbell’s adapted to take-out and delivery services to continue to serve the community.
“What this past year has done for us is made us stop, think, dream and open ourselves up to surprise by cooking in the moment with playful passion. This is where I want to be right now,” Mark Tarbell said. “I love the idea that Tarbell’s, after 25 years, has become an institution, but we as a group refuse to be ‘institutionalized’ in the way we approach food, service and our community. We are now free to be.”
I love the idea that Tarbell’s, after 25 years, has become an institution, but we as a group refuse to be ‘institutionalized’ in the way we approach food, service and our community. We are now free to be.
Tarbell strongly values eternal optimism, focus and discipline. Not only does he believe that preparation and training are keys to a successful outcome, but he truly, truly believes in people. Within Tarbell’s, he has surrounded himself with staff who consider each other family and work together to create a sanctuary for customers to escape their crazy, busy lives and have their senses nourished with gracious and seamless service.
Tarbell’s is witty, innovative and welcoming, and the open endedness of the current global situation has actually brought the upscale restaurant back to its original roots and into being known as iconic.
“I’m loving breaking some of the restraints that I had formed in my mind about who we are and what we need to do to stay open. We started engaging with our sources way back in the beginning, and we are coming back to that,” Tarbell said.
For instance, Tarbell’s Supports Agriculture (TSA) boxes were designed to support local farmers by ordering a box filled with veggies from Wong’s Farm, Janna at Phoenix Pinnacle Farms, Michael at Southwest Mushrooms and others. With boxes selling out in minutes, it’s safe to say that this initiative has seen great success.
“We want to give back to this community that has been so great to us. We want to leave the Restaurant Business with a legacy of grace and uplifted standards,” Tarbell said.