Valley of the Vine

The Business of Grapes from Ground to Glass

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2017

Written by Gail Collins

Sitting in a trattoria in Tuscany, we ordered the local red wine, served in carafes. Such stuff never leaves the country, and it was the perfect complement to the boar stew. Terroir and taste—as local as it gets.

Over several years, the locavore trend has gained momentum growing farmer’s markets, restaurant offerings and Arizona’s Verde Valley Wine Trail. Cultivating its success was a team effort.

Eric Glomski, owner and director of winegrowing for Page Spring Cellars and Arizona Stronghold, has been in the wine business for two decades. He shunned becoming “just another winery in California,” where costs are prohibitive, and he undertook a statewide search of Arizona before calling Cornville home. His criteria for making wine were climate, soil, water supply, population proximity and demographics. The rural spot was ideal for raising a family, too. That was 14 years ago, and Glomski has learned a great deal and taught it to others, who possess the same passion.

“Since 2004, Page Spring Cellars (PSC) has become the father and mother of products personally and for others,” said Glomski, who helped birth Burning Tree, Carlson Creek, Painted Lady, Gallifant Cellars and more. Winemaking expanded in the region, so he moved Arizona Stronghold to a bigger facility to become “a home for start-ups, an incubator” for making contract, custom brands.

Glomski studied the subtleties of the land and helped define the crops, such as French-American hybrids over pinot noir. Educating the public built loyalty, the industry and recognition. PSC earned 90+ points on Wine Spectator’s scale, yet the bestowing of two Jefferson Cups in 2010 by the country’s top officials marked a turning point. “Arizona is not imitating others—we are confident winemakers in the Arizona marketplace and beyond,” Glomski said.

Winning teams comprise dedicated players, who work together. When Casey Rooney, economic development director for the City of Cottonwood, arrived 10 years ago, he recognized the potential for the wine game. “I’m a cog in the development of Cottonwood,” Rooney said. Old town was underutilized and devoid of businesses then. The mission:  To bring private business to the table to advise city planning.

In 2008, with other power players, such as police-chief-turned-city-manager Doug Bartosh, the wine industry became the focus. It would act as the driver for tourist dollars. As five-year plans were enacted, ancillary business alliances exploded in old town. “We were a sleeping giant with excitement to grow,” Rooney said. “We still feel the times are supercharged.” Wineries, such as Javelina Leap and Alcantara Vineyards, popped up in the countryside, and a tour of Napa and Sonoma confirmed, “We could do this.” Rooney called it “economic gardening,” growing from within to stay local and smart. Seeking solutions to problems benefitted all entrepreneurs, and in 2014, Cottonwood rebranded as the Heart of Arizona Wine Country.

Continue reading “Valley of the Vine”


The Cottage keeps it French and fresh

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, September 2017
Written by Gail Collins

Change is the only constant in this world, and it certainly applies to a competitive restaurant scene. The need to stay in tune with patrons, innovation, global influences and ownership transitions mean change is often on the menu in one way or another. Keeping a restaurant vibrant is key, presenting opportunities for a restaurant revamp. As Americans spent nearly $750 billion on eating out in 2015, slicing into that pie is worth the effort for restaurateurs.

Franchise eateries periodically update, such as the recent facelifts on Olive Garden and MacDonald’s. But what about an independent restaurant that has been a successful icon in town? Flagstaff locals have celebrated weddings and hallmark anniversaries and other special occasions at The Cottage Place Restaurant for more than twenty years, so its transition to The Cottage took considerable care.

“We had many conversations with previous owners Frank and Nancy Branham about carrying on the legacy of great service,” said new owner and chef Scott Heinonen. “The Cottage can continue to be a special event place, while also serving as a fine, comfortable dining spot for people to visit any Friday night.”

His goal was to retain the charm and impeccable service, while infusing Heinonen’s reputation for flair and fun. For example, the chairs were repainted and reupholstered, while the sign was repurposed, featuring a traditional rooster clutching a wine glass. The 1910 bungalow first became a French restaurant in the 80’s, and Branham’s interpretation of French cuisine came a decade later. Now, Heinonen imparts his style, in a concise, evolving menu of French standards with updated taste trends.

Continue reading “CLASSIC REVAMP”

Going a Cut Above

Pine Canyon’s Executive Chef Dishes on Cuisine

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2017

Written by Gail Collins

Executive Chef David Lapinski’s first job in the culinary industry seemed unlikely, at the time, to propel him to the celebrated successes of his long career. The high schooler hired on to wash dishes at Mount Holyoke College. On his first day, the cook was sick and promoted him to organize the meal service two hours later. Having noted the young man’s interest in attending culinary school, the cook gave him the menu rundown, and it went off without a hitch. “I’d never cooked for anybody before in my life,” Lapinski said with a chuckle. “I’d only taken a home ec class, but I never washed dishes again.” Within two years, he took on the role of catering manager. Perhaps, moving from the dirty frying pan to the fire galvanized and prepared him for the challenges ahead.

After graduating from Johnson & Wales, Lapinski began a coast-to-coast tour, beginning with Disney World’s Apprentice Program, where he learned classical French cuisine. Nearly two decades later, his resume lists the renowned Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Sidewalkers in Manhattan, Max’s Restaurant in San Francisco, followed by positions in Virginia, Maine, and Massachusetts before settling in Arizona. Along the way, Lapinski refined his craft and gained further professional training. It earned him accolades, which include:  recognition in Gourmet Magazine, Best New Restaurant, second place for Most Creative American Cuisine, Executive Chef Certification, American Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year plus various gold and silver medals within the association as well as ice carving competition awards.

Despite his management background, Lapinski works the line as necessary and enjoys it. “My tradition is to lead by example, whether it’s a dirty job, like cleaning the grease trap, or managing,” he said. Opening restaurants and menu design are strengths honed to launch The Capital Grille in Scottsdale. Then, building on his club experience, The Estancia Club took him up a rung before heading north to manage the dining at Pine Canyon Clubhouse.

Continue reading “Going a Cut Above”

Primo & Pasta


Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, July 2017

Written by Gail Collins

Without ever having traveled to Tuscany’s hills or any other destination on the boot, many of us consider ourselves aficionados of Italian cuisine. Knowledge of the proper pronunciation of bruschetta (broo-skeh’-tta) or the inauthentic combination of meatballs with spaghetti doesn’t dissuade us. We’re willing to eat and learn. Fortunately, from more than a dozen trips to Italy, I can reassure you that it is not only customary, but necessary, for Italians to feed you well. There are many reasons.

Olive oil pulses through the populations’ veins with the average native consuming 14 joint-lubricating liters per year. Multiple-course meals multiply the ways to savor fresh pasta, seafood or veal, garden produce, focaccia and gelato. Wine flows like the Tiber River into Rome from the world’s number-one producer. Still, village vines are hoarded and pressed into house wine to compliment boar stew in San Gimignano or cassòla in Sardinia. Ah, Italia!

Now, those yearning for fine Italian dining need travel no farther than historic downtown Flagstaff. Ascend Group, who also own Horsemen Lodge and Northern Pines Restaurant, felt the city’s longing for ravioli and glitz, and opened La Vetta Ristorante Italiano on North Leroux in February.

La Vetta shines in snowy, sparkling, stacked stone with glittering lights, glass partitions and contemporary denim and dove-colored S-booths and banquettes. Vibrant impressionist, Italian-inspired canvases pop on the walls and Rat Pack tunes invite diners to indulge. General Manager Kevin Crow, with a fine dining background from Josephine’s Modern American Bistro, employs upscale expectations. “Checking quality regularly and teaching staff has been a busy, positive experience,” he said.

“Vetta” translates as summit or peak in Italian and honors Arizona’s tallest mountains. It also serves as the culinary goal for Executive Chef Dylan Tobin. With a well-logged past in Flagstaff kitchens, Tobin began cooking in a café at 14 years old and advanced to sous-chef at 18 before landing in a commanding position at La Vetta at 23. Aiming for classic, yet inventive cuisine, he wowed owner Steve Alvin at his tasting interview with cioppino, now a standard on the menu. The spicy acidity of the tomato broth, swimming with succulent mussels, clams, cod and shrimp, is balanced by a scoop of creamy parmesan risotto.

Continue reading “Primo & Pasta”

Chef Spotlights

Katy kitchens boast many culinary wizards, who’ve honed their passions for flavor and flair to create success on a plate.

Although these chefs display their talents by cooking food found around the world, they have all worked hard to get to where they are today. They show that perseverance and consistency can bring you to new heights and make goals a reality.

Katy Magazine, June/July 2017 Foodie Issue Cover Story

Eric Aldis

Agave Rio

With 5 siblings, cooking was simply part of Eric Aldis’ family chores. “I have a heart for cooking,” he says.  The Katy Taylor alum graduated from the Art Institute of Houston’s entrepreneurship program. To further his education, Aldis worked gratis for some of the best restaurants in town. His culinary career began at Four Seasons Hotel Houston and advanced to the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas and the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans before returning to Houston at Midtown BBQ and Corner Table. In fact, Aldis opened three locations in three months in 2016 with a focus on Agave Rio Restaurant & Patio Oasis. The evolving menu combines American and South American-inspired dishes. Katy is home again to Aldis with four children of his own, and he is teaching them to work, whether it’s running a nonalcoholic bar or turning those pots. He says, “Sitting down together is the best, and whatever meal were eating, it’s my favorite.”

Christo Batsios

Sapore Ristorante Italiano

It’s hardly surprising that Chef Christo Batsios would own and operate an Italian restaurant with his father Georgio. As a Greek-Italian immigrant, Georgio owned three restaurants in Michigan, where Chef Christo grew up. Generations before him had run restaurants, and at 4 years old, Batsios sat on a milk crate peeling potatoes and onions. After a culinary education and work in Italy and Greece, Batsios joined HEB to butcher and progressed with the company. His dreams soon turned to longing for a restaurant, and Georgio emerged from retirement with Landry’s. An Italian brasserie with a struggling menu was found and infused with legacy recipes, like Pomodoro sauce and slow-roasted beets with lamb shanks. “I love to feed people, and every guest is coming to our home for dinner,” Batsios says. His goal is overachieving in flavor—sapore—with service and presentation of rustic dishes dressed in signature sauces. Getting up before dawn and prepping is a joy. The journey from his humble roots to technical cooking skills is satisfying, and new wife Cassie supports his passion.

Raul Carrillo

The Cellar Door

This chef trekked from El Paso to Katy in the search of the best job and life. Raul Carrillo finalized a culinary education at the Art Institute in 2004.  Explaining his career shift, he says, “I liked cooking, and everyone like the way I cooked.” His grandmother and mother appreciated the kitchen arts, and Carrillo still calls his mom for recipe checks. He is hard at work when everyone else is playing though—weekends, celebrations, and holidays—so he never cooks at home. “My wife says my food isn’t simple, and I use too many pans,” he jokes. The humble chef doesn’t seek glory, and is happy to know people relish the food and will return. Like most chefs, he delights in chatting with patrons and collects honest feedback to improve the menu. The interaction is a return to his Cooking Connection days at HEB. Perhaps, that is the secret to recent success all around. The Cellar Door needed a kitchen revamp, and Chef Raul advanced to executive chef and turned it around. The family establishment showcases the wine, and Carrillo’s cuisine compliments it wonderfully.

Paul Friedman

Peli Peli

Paul Friedman was born into South Africa’s version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, inextricably linking him to the food industry. After family training and a trial by fire, Friedman owned his first restaurant at the age of 21, crafting the open kitchen idea. In 1978, he drove across America in a Volkswagen bus and arrived in Houston. Now, after 35 years invested professionally in a string of international accomplishments, he returned to his roots with the flavors of fruit and fire, many people know as Peri Peri. Combining hot and spicy with guava, passion fruit, papaya and mango, Friedman utilized the Mozambique term of Peli Peli to name his restaurant model. His series, From a Jew to the Stew, includes three cookbooks, and numerous awards crowd his 58th restaurant, including first place at Katy’s Sip and Stroll 2017. Still, Friedman’s four grown children make him most proud. The CEO Chef enjoys meeting diners table-side and says, “We’re creating a culture of happiness, taking care of guests and our staff.” That kindness will soon expand with a location in Austin and a winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Solé Lynds

Aromas Latin Cuisine & Wine Bar

Chef Solé Lynds’ admiration for the service industry began while studying international business at university in the UK. She worked in cafés and revived a culinary passion. Her Venezuelan family was immersed in the dining trade, and she played restaurant games as a child. Through international job moves, she met her American husband in China, and they had a son. Lynds focused on wine and garnered a Wine and Spirit Education Trust certification to consult with restaurants in Australia, and then the US, to pair wine with food. Still, she yearned to combine her own food and wine angle, so started cooking with a mission. Her restaurant was conceived with strong Latin and European influences in wine, alongside dishes that reflect a wine’s inherent qualities. Today, Lynds’ hands-on training presents a pretty plate, which she excitedly serves up in the inspired setting built through supportive family and friends. “I love creating amazing food to wow people,” she says. KM

Bio:  Gail G. Collins writes for magazines with three books on international life, believing people’s stories best explain world around us.


Nomads Global Lounge Caters to International Travelers & Local Foodies

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, June 2017

Story & Photos by Gail Collins

Travel writer and a founder of Outside magazine, Tim Cahill, once noted:  “Travel is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” On the cusp of summer, one’s mind turns to travel, to vacation. Vacation and travel are used interchangeably, but the first often entails getting away to relax, while the latter implies exploration.

Exploration becomes an education, both in making plans and executing them, and as plans generally go awry, that is when the learning begins in earnest. We must problem-solve, reach out to strangers, and often, we make friends in the process. Beyond our familiar culture lay new ways to live, think and grow. Our circle of experience expands dynamically, and we are raw and real in the moment. Maybe, that authenticity allows us to find fast friends when wandering—we open up, engage in novel adventures and find others, who understand the joy in it.

We are fortunate to live in a place, where people come for adventure. Flagstaff is a jumping off point for travelers from around the globe. They bring their ways to us! The connecting point for such fellow travelers is Nomads Global Lounge with the motto:  “Where the world comes to mingle.” Owners John and Lisa McCulloch wanted a social space for guests of their properties, so John spent more than two years employing his

woodworking skills to transform the previous check-in area of Motel DuBeau. Nomads opened last October.

“We created an elegant, but comfortable, communal environment, where travelers and pilgrims could gather and tell stories, and locals could meet them,” John said. Lisa handled the decorating, layering a sleek, international atmosphere over classic, historic bones. Handcrafted, burnished wood, leather seating arranged for chatting, bold colors on the walls and global destinations on frameless canvases give Nomads a timeless, yet yearning-forward, feel. The duo built a background in customer service before buying the Downtown Motel in 1997 and Motel DuBeau Travelers Inn & Hostel in 2000 to provide beds for 90 travelers.

“It’s a quiet place to come after the theater, for parents dropping off college kids, a pre-game meet-up or a nightcap after dinner,” said John. The bar aspects include a variety of international wines and beers, plus cold pints of Boddington’s and 90 Schilling, specifically. Can’t decide on a wine? John suggests sampling sips.

Continue reading “GOING WORLDLY”


Outdoor Dining in Downtown Flagstaff Reaches New Heights at Root Public House

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living, May 2017

Written by Gail Collins

One of life’s simplest joys is eating out, and by that, we mean out of doors. Warm and lovely days encourage us to camp, hike or fish, and inevitably, to gather for a meal. Everything seems bigger in the great outdoors— including our appetites for food and flavors. Gathering for a barbecue or escaping for a picnic provides real health benefits, such as vitamin D, boosted mood and increased activity.

The delights of eating outdoors are timeless. From a trestle table filled with a family feast in the Tuscan countryside to a patio table laid with linen on the Champs Elysees to a rooftop view above it all in downtown Flagstaff, al fresco dining is a pleasure. “We have the designation of being the only rooftop dining in town,” said David Smith, chef/owner and partner with Jeremy Meyer of Root Public House.

Root’s rooftop perch is spacious, nearly doubling the its size, under a bowl of blue. A bank of seating wraps the patio plus plenty of tables for soaking up the rays and the view make it the best summer spot. The San Francisco Peaks hold prominence on the horizon surrounded by historic city sites. The bar is self-contained, providing equivalent drinks service as the main floor with eight to 10 local brews on a dozen taps. Or try the signature cocktail Root Down. It’s vibrant, containing only local ingredients:  Desert Rain gin, carrot juice, jalapeno bitters and local IPA foam exuding a citrus fragrance. Although the rooftop tends to drinks and nosh, guest have access to the full food program.

Like the expansive rooftop, Smith and Meyer’s idea to own a fine dining restaurant grew. Raised in Virginia and Arkansas respectively, they channeled their southern backbone for inspiration originally. That blossomed as well with Smith open to the whims of whatever looks good and tastes great on the menu. Meyer summed, “Root Public House pushed our boundaries in good ways—we’re keeping it organic.”

Both had lengthy industry backgrounds. Smith arrived in Flagstaff a decade ago with successes as partner/owner of Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar, before opening Criollo Latin Kitchen and Proper Meats and Provisions. Smith met Meyer, the bar program manager at Criollo, in 2010. Understandably, the team had a proper following when they launched Root in July 2016 with a bang. The partners’ consistent mission provides sustainable, organic and local fare. White paint and steel touches create an understated vibe like the owners’ trademark jeans and tees.

Continue reading “RAISING the ROOF”

Breaking the Mold

Dr. Linda Yancey excels in the male-dominated medical world of infectious disease

Katy Magazine, April 2017

Written by Gail G. Collins

When a Texas A&M undergrad in biology signed up for a rusty professor’s microbiology class, her life’s work came into focus. Today, Dr. Linda Yancey is a rarity, where only a handful of the women studying internal medicine go on to become infectious disease specialists (IDS). She also holds a position as chief of staff, where the demographics of executive positions have been slow to shift to women.

Dr. Yancey graduated from medical school at Texas Tech in 1996 and did her residency at Arizona’s Mayo Clinic. She returned to Texas for a fellowship at Baylor after the birth of her first child. The new doctor moved down the street from her in-laws and had three more children, calling Katy home.

Dr. Mom

“The work-life balance is most challenging, and more so for female physicians,” says Dr. Yancey. “Doctors don’t have the option of closing the clinic because their own child is sick.” Her husband, Lanier Ripple Jr., is a software developer and works from home. It has been a major win for their family as childcare issues often fall to the mother, and Yancey praises his career support.

What children see in their home life is normal, and often it is enlightening and funny. When Yancey’s oldest daughters were 5 and 7 years of age, they were together in the car traveling from a baby shower, rife with female physicians. The older daughter wondered aloud if men could be doctors. Before Dr. Yancey could speak, the sister answered in a tone that implied it was stupidest question she had ever heard, saying, “No, only girls are allowed to be doctors.” Dr. Yancey burst out laughing before she could confirm that, despite the recent evidence, both men and women can be doctors.

Continue reading “Breaking the Mold”

Kings of SIZZLE

Horsemen Lodge Steaks a Claim on an Iconic Meal

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, April 2017

Written by Gail Collins

Steak. The word brings meat to mind. Not just any beef, but a premium, savored experience. While the term steak defines any fast-cooking cut, most of us wouldn’t be so generous. Taste, tenderness and marbling all play a part in making a steak great.

In general, meat is muscle, so the choicest steaks are sliced from lesser-used muscle areas. The loin or backstrap runs along either side of the spine in long, tender muscles outside the ribs. The tenderloin or filet mignon lies on the inside of the ribs below mid-spine. From these two muscles come four ideal candidates for steaks:  ribeye, tenderloin, strip and T-bone. In each of these cuts, fine flecks of fat—called marbling—baste the meat with flavor.

Though diners may have preferences, there are a few classic culinary rules for achieving steak nirvana. First, apply generous amounts of coarse Kosher salt to meat left at room temperature for 30 minutes. Brush with clarified butter or oil to prevent sticking and use a smoking hot grill. This shortens cooking time for more tender beef, adding a flavorful crust. Lastly, after cooking, let the steak rest for a few moments to absorb the pockets of juice. Most consider the ideal steak to be an inch-and-a-half ribeye, served medium rare with a pink, warm middle plus sufficient char.

Steak is an iconic meal, and northeast of Flagstaff—a few miles up U.S. 89—an icon has been serving them for more than four decades. Horsemen Lodge Steakhouse opened in 1975 and quickly became a hangout for Babbitt cowboys working on the CO Bar Ranch. The restaurant name pays homage to the ranch lifestyle in its authentic details—Western art, six-shooters, brands, chaps and spurs—and its cowboy-inspired menu, featuring steak. This has won the rustic outpost the Arizona Daily Sun’s Best of Flagstaff Award for Best Steak for two years running.  Kudos to majority owner Steve Alvin for rebuilding Horsemen’s status and presence in the community.

Continue reading “Kings of SIZZLE”