(l-r): Lisa Dahl, Michelle Jurisin, Silvana Esparza

5 AZ Female Chefs to Watch

By: Nora Burba Trulsson

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July 16, 2018

Read about the rise of five Arizona female chefs and restaurateurs, then sample their culinary creativity at eateries across the state.

About the author

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson is a long-time Arizona resident and a freelance writer specializing in travel, food, lifestyle, architecture and design topics. Her articles have appeared in Sunset, Arizona Highways, Vegas Seven, Houzz.com, Valley Guide, Scottsdale Magazine, United Airlines Hemispheres, Westjet's Up!, Renovation Style, Beautiful Homes and other publications and websites. She can be reached through www.noraburbatrulsson.com.

Some of Arizona’s best – and best-known – restaurants are helmed by women. They have created eateries that span a wide variety of culinary approaches. Here are just a few of our ladies who have launched restaurants.

Charleen Badman, Scottsdale

After years of working her way up the food chain in Tucson, Scottsdale and New York, Charleen Badman was ready to open her own restaurant back home in Arizona. Partnering with Pavle Milic, who focuses on the front of the house, she opened Scottsdale’s FnB in 2009.

The intimate restaurant, with its almost-daily-changing, vegetable-centric menu, has earned Badman five James Beard Award nominations and Milic a James Beard Award nomination for his Arizona-centric wine program.

“There is so much diversity now in Arizona when it comes to what farmers and producers are offering,” says Badman. “We like to support local farmers and winemakers.”

Lisa Dahl, Sedona

Lisa Dahl was in the fashion industry for years before she relocated to Sedona in the mid-1990s in search of a spiritually healing environment. Two decades later the self-taught chef owns and operates four restaurants, is launching two more, and has received accolades and recognition from The New York Times, Wine Spectator, the Food Network, Travel Channel and others.

Dahl opened her first restaurant, Dahl & DiLuca Ristorante Italiano, as an upscale Italian concept in Sedona, later followed by Cucina Rustica, which features a rustic menu and an Old World decor. The casual Pisa Lisa came next, and most recently the sleekly modern Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill, where Dahl has been exploring Latin American cuisine.

Next on her plate: a second location of Pisa Lisa and a burger lounge called Butterfly Burger scheduled to open 2019 in the Village of Oak Creek.

Michelle Jurisin, Jerome

Michelle Jurisin was on a day trip with her family to Jerome in 1993 when they stumbled upon a boarded-up old building. With dreams of owning their own restaurant and living in a small town, the chef and her husband bought the building and started Haunted Hamburger.

A quarter of a century later, the burger restaurant is still popular, and Jurisin – along with her family – has gone on to become a hospitality entrepreneur in the Verde Valley, running five other restaurants, including Grapes, Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House and The Tavern Grille.

More recently, she visited Italy to study pizza making and came back to debut Cottonwood’s Pizzeria Bocce, then opened Crema Craft Kitchen + Bar, also in Cottonwood, as an all-day brunch spot on the grounds of their boutique inn, The Tavern Hotel.

Maria Mazon, Tucson

Tucson-born and Sonora, Mexico-raised Maria Mazon calls her self-taught culinary career “a great big beautiful mistake.” Regardless of how she began, the chef has made it her crusade to introduce people to authentic Mexican cuisine.

In 2010, Mazon opened BOCA Tacos y Tequila, which recently relocated to Tucson’s quirky Fourth Avenue. Mazon’s menu of 26 types of tacos, plus exotic salsas made with different combinations of fruits and vegetables, are a showcase of her artistic culinary creativity. Her skills even earned her and BOCA spots on the Food Network.

“I don’t like to make the same thing over and over,” says Mazon of her approach. “I like to change things up, to show my personality and my Mexican culture.”

Silvana Salcido Esparza, Phoenix

Silvana Salcido Esparza grew up working in her family’s California bakery business. Of Mexican descent, she also made food to sell to farm workers who labored in the fields of the surrounding San Joaquin Valley.

After a stint in Miami, Florida’s international banking scene, Salcido Esparza returned to her roots via culinary school, then took a sabbatical in Mexico, exploring regional cuisine.

In 2002, she opened Barrio Cafe in central Phoenix, where she’s been presenting her spin on Mexican culinary classics ever since. Fourteen years later she launched Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva in a historic Phoenix pie factory along Grand Avenue. Here, Salcido Esparza serves up a seasonally changing, creative and improvisational menu for loyalists and newcomers alike.

Photos courtesy of (l-r): Lisa Dahl and JLauren PR, Pizzeria Bocce, and Barrio Cafe.

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