I grew up in a rural farming community in West Michigan. Mason County is home to extensive asparagus and corn fields, peaches, apples, cherries, and so on. And Scottville is also home to Mycopia, one of the most prominent gourmet mushroom growers in the country. Morel mushrooms grew on our sixteen-acre property, which was surrounded by orchards.
As a teenager, I had zero appreciation for any of this. Still, my father, Mike, and my stepmother Jan had me working in the vegetable garden every year, an activity that I resisted with all my rebellious being. As Jan used to say, “education is wasted on youth.”
Then something glorious happened: I left. And having left, my perspective shifted. Extensive international travel with my multiple musical projects awakened in me a new appreciation for all these things I’d taken for granted. It had been right there in front of me the whole time.
My ancestry can best be described as mutt, but during my wanderlust, my Italian heritage seemed to have taken over as the lead dog. So my appreciation for simple preparation, minimal intervention, seasonal menus, and regional wines grew exponentially once that internal Mediterranean lightbulb was switched on.
As we traveled, we would seek out all the highly recommended spots. Inevitably, four out of five so-called ‘must try’ places were trying too hard. Whether it was overly manipulated dishes, stuffy white table cloth fine dining, or being insulted by the ass end of know-it-all somms, most places fell short of stepping aside to highlight what was unique for their region.
But the one out of five successes are what now drive my view of food — and my approach to all of my menus and winemaking. These highlights include, but are not limited to: Enoteca 1889 in Brisbane, Inakaya in Tokyo, the legendary Sushi Nozawa in Studio City, Lupa in NYC, pretty much any small mom and pop place in Piemonte, and FnB in Scottsdale, Arizona. Although I could spend days expanding on this list, and then spend weeks going into details about each experience, let’s focus on Charleen Badman and Pavle Milić at FnB — not just because FnB is in my chosen home state, Arizona, but because this place, and these people, are the real deal.
Relationships and connection are the life blood of the restaurant industry. But they require a long-haul mentality, one too often missing.
Charleen, as the chef, is equal parts artist, wizard, and steward. Pavle, running the front of the house and the beverage program, is equal parts fearless spirit guide, mind reader, and master of ceremonies. And the key descriptors that bind together all of these super powers are connection and relationships.
In most formal settings, connections can be superficial; relationships are often sacrificed in business endeavors for short-term gain. I can’t remember precisely where I heard it, but there’s a quote that sums this up: “Respect is what we jam in the empty hole where love should already be.” In my opinion, relationships and connection are the life blood of the restaurant industry. But they require a long-haul mentality, one too often missing.
Charleen is a living, breathing example of believing in the long haul. She is capable of identifying — and then masterfully highlighting — the simple, delicious beauty in her ingredients, as opposed to relying on all the distracting bells and whistles her peers use to grab your immediate attention. Her bok choy had me twisted. Blanched. Salt, pepper, oil. Split. Grilled. Simple. Same with her hasselback carrots.
As capable as she is as a chef, she couldn’t do what she does without the gems she receives from local growers. Her direct relationships with these families provides her with wonderful raw materials, literally and metaphorically, to orchestrate glorious experiences for all who have had the privilege of dining at FnB.
Pavle, whether you want it or not, is going to make a connection with you. He genuinely likes you — and he hasn’t even met you yet. He has a connection with life in general, and it’s extremely contagious. Pavle is also the pioneer of an all-Arizona wine list. When he began that effort, people told him he was batshit crazy. Those people were wrong. He was instrumental in breaking down preconceptions of Arizona wines. He skipped right past potential to establish actual. The truth is always in the glass. And he changed minds.
2020 and Covid threw a giant wrench in my frequent FnB visits, but I intend to catch up as soon as I return from my current travels. They are still there. They survived this mess. I’d like to think that part of the reason was because of the genuine relationships and connections they’ve established over the years. To shamelessly quote myself: The hands of the many must join as one and together we’ll cross the river.
Maynard James Keenan is the lead singer of the groups Tool and Puscifer; the winemaker and owner of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards, in northern Arizona; and a world-class multitasker. Follow him on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.