Justin Beckett: It’s a Damn Good Grilled Cheese

Justin Beckett is bringing a creative flair to the restaurant scene in Arizona and it's a really good thing.

When Chef Justin Beckett moved to Arizona to start a restaurant, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Now, 21 years later, he’s more in love with the valley than ever. With two successful restaurants and an appearance on the Food Network’s Chopped under his belt, the future holds endless possibilities for this talented chef.

Q: Was there a reason you chose Phoenix to dive into the dining scene?

A: Phoenix called to me in a couple different ways, I was asked to come down to Arizona to open restaurants, but once I was here, it had a sense of home. It kind of latched on and didn’t let me go. I did also meet my wife here, and obviously opening two restaurants keeps me in town!

Q: You mention locally sourced foods. How important is that in your creations?

I would tell you that, when I was a younger chef, I thought that a menu changing with the seasons was based on the proteins, but really what I’ve grown to appreciate, love and understand is that produce dictates your entire menu. So if you don’t have really good connections with specialty organic produce farmers, your menu is going to be stagnant and you won’t be serving the best things you can get here in town.

Q: With all the success you have had here in Phoenix, how has the community helped support that success?

I think that anytime you have something new and shiny, people gravitate towards that. But when you can back that up with consistency, with quality, with creativity, then you get people to latch on and stay, to keep coming back. That is really important in a restaurant because there’s a new restaurant opening every day, this culinary scene is booming, so you have to be consistent and creative, and wonderful. Consistency is huge, people love to know that they’re going to get what they remember, what they bargained for. Another element to that is cravability, if you have something that people crave when they aren’t at your restaurant, then they’re thinking about it, thinking they’d love to have the short ribs at Becketts.

Q: I’ve definitely ordered the grilled cheese many times, it’s pretty life changing!

That grilled cheese sandwich has become something people stop me in the grocery store about. You go to culinary school and you want to be this great chef and then you’re known for grilled cheese! But it’s great, you want to be known for something so it’s fine. We always laugh about it.

Q: With the ideas you’ve come up with, how has that supported the growth of the culinary culture here?

I would never take credit for the growth of the culinary scene in Phoenix, but I will take credit for being a part of it, contributing to it. I think that there’s a lot of guys out there like me, guys that are working towards goals or working for other people, who had this opportunity 9 to 6 years ago to jump onto the scene and do something they’re passionate about. If you’re working for someone else, you can be passionate and you can respect their products as if they’re your own, but when you have a piece that is your own, a building or kitchen you designed, a restaurant you paid for, you end up going that extra mile every time. That shows in these independently owned Arizona-based restaurants.

Q: Which of our 5 C’s do you feel that you connect with the most?

I think the most important of the C’s has to be community. The reason I say that because when we invented these restaurants when we came up with the concepts, the idea was to get people from all walks of life having a meal together. Sharing a meal is the foundation of family, coming together around the dining room table, sharing your day’s experiences. Even if your complaining about what’s in front of you, it’s still that family time. If we can get family, friends, business people, first dates, whatever it is – if we can get those people back connecting and being a community in a restaurant, that’s a huge checkmark in our box.

Q: As a bit of a fan, we’d love to hear your experience on Chopped and trying to bring it home for the state!

So for me, when they approached me about Chopped, it was kind of a no-brainer. I do believe that the national food scene needs to hear more from Arizona, it needs to hear that we are not just cactus and tumbleweed and cowboy statues. We are legitimately talented in this town! I went and did the show, it was an incredible experience, it was an unbelievably difficult day, such a labor of love. Overall, I’m super happy I did it, and people are still stopping me in the street and saying “Your that guy from Chopped!” I don’t know the total number, but I think it’s around 14 chefs from Arizona made it onto the show this season and last season. Which is encouraging because the Food Network is seeing there is some talent here and some people that deserve to be on national TV.

So Much More to Come

It’s no surprise Chef Beckett has made a name for himself in Arizona and will continue his culinary creations at Beckett’s Table and Southern Rail. His love and appreciation for the culture and community he serves is apparent in his food, but he knows there is still a long way to go in changing the perception of Arizona. “Show a thriving restaurant, or our unbelievable agriculture, or the awesome art scene that we have blooming downtown! There is so much to do here and I hope that everyone latches and helps to promote it.”

Beckett's Table

3717 E Indian School Rd
Phoenix 85018

Southern Rail

300 W Camelback Rd
Phoenix 85013