Survey the culinary lineage of any emerging food town and you’ll find a web of chefs whose roots trace back to a few select, ground-breaking kitchens.  These restaurants serve as hotbeds of talent, populating the next generation of culinary achievement.  In Phoenix, there are four names that continually come up as a part of the experience of today’s hottest chefs:  Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician, Michael DeMaria restaurants, Lee Cohn of Big 4 Restaurants and Cowboy Ciao.  There certainly were other substantial trailblazers who contributed to the growth of Phoenix dining, but these four come up over and over again as the source of many culinary careers.

Bacon Pecan Brittle

Bacon Pecan Brittle

Cowboy Ciao happens to be the branch of the tree that influenced my favorite local lady in pastry, Tracy Dempsey.  Now the owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals, she started her career at a catering company, but it was the Ciao kitchen that brought to life her famous Bacon Pecan Brittle.  She tells the story that while she was working as the Pastry Chef, Bernie Kantak (now of Citizen Public House and The Gladly) was the Executive Chef.  They’re good friends today, but apparently he used to be a bit of a tough nut.  She was hoping for a little bit of validation in the kitchen but it wasn’t until he had a bite of her brittle that he mustered some enthusiasm in the form of a high-five.  That day and that high-five meant a lot to her. Her brittle is still a huge hit years later and was being chopped up by the sheet-full on the day I visited her Tempe kitchen.

When I said that Tracy is my favorite local lady in pastry, I sincerely meant it.  Her work is inspiring, refined, inventive and downright delicious.  Cookies, cakes, creative pastries, the flakiest pie crust that melts in your mouth, beautiful buttery shortbreads…(pause for drool cleanup). She would have every right to rock a serious ego, but the icing on the proverbial cake is that she carries herself with humility and gratitude.   Wondering if you’ve had her desserts at an Arizona restaurant? She currently provides sweets to Citizen Public House, The Gladly, Crudo, Nook and Uncle Sal’s, among others.  Her desserts are different at each restaurant, specifically created just for them.  You won’t see duplicates because she wants to honor each restaurant’s menu.  I’m sure she could make more money or have more free time if she stuck with a set list of desserts, but that’s not Tracy’s style.  She an artist working with fellow artists, adhering to a belief in originality and creativity.

Tracy Dempsey Originals

Tracy and her team

Not only does Tracy turn out a staggering number of desserts every day, but she is paying it forward to an industry that has helped her become a successful, independent business owner.  When she first launched TDO, she needed a place to do her baking.  Arcadia Farms allowed her to use their kitchen in the off hours until the demand for her desserts outgrew their space.  In the same spirit she is now sharing her kitchens with some talented local food entrepreneurs. Further, she is the Vice President for The Joy Bus, a non-profit organization that delivers chef inspired meals and friendly faces to home bound cancer patients.  She knows that her business would not have survived without the generosity and help of other people.  It’s this kind of collaboration and positive mutual support between food-related business owners and entrepreneurs that builds a great food scene.  Tracy is undeniably an important part of Phoenix.

Need a cake, desserts, or a sweet fix? Tracy and her team are happy to help you out.  Head to the Tracy Dempsey Originals website for details.