Anyone can be in the food industry. You can love food and cook at home and still be connected. There is a place for everyone, so find a way to be a part of it that works for your lifestyle. Not everyone is meant to be a chef.
As part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chef Aaron Chamberlin, founder and CEO of Good Things Coming, an Arizona-based cannabis brand. After a storied culinary career working with luminaries like Michel Richard, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nancy Oakes, followed by success as owner of Phoenix restaurants St. Francis, Taco Chelo, and Phoenix Public Market, Chamberlin transitioned his culinary talents to cannabis where he is redefining the edibles market.
As a chef owner of past restaurants, Chamberlin is an entrepreneur at heart. He was drawn to the cannabis industry because of its tremendous growth trajectory, the ability to stretch his creativity as a chef, and the chance to offer products that have the power to help people use food to heal.
Good Things Coming is elevating the edible cannabis sector with its innovative product lines that put a focus on both taste and experience with sophisticated flavors. Chamberlin has created chef-driven recipes using local and quality ingredients to craft precisely dosed sweet treats that tantalize the taste buds while relaxing the nerves.
Chamberlin got his start in the food industry growing up cooking with his grandfather who was also a chef. At age 15 he started working as a dishwasher in a restaurant and knew he found his calling in the kitchen. After pursuing his culinary education in San Francisco he spent a decade training and honing his skill and style with top chefs throughout the country. He returned to his hometown of Phoenix to develop and open the wildly popular La Grande Orange Pizzeria and Chelsea’s Kitchen before launching his own restaurants.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
There were two major influences in my life that inspired me to become a chef and restaurateur. My grandfather was a chef and my grandmother worked alongside him running the front of the house. They did this their entire lives and it was in their blood. Growing up, there was a photograph of my grandfather with his entire team in their whites. They all looked very proud and noble. Though I didn’t get to know my grandfather very well since he died young, that photograph struck a chord in me. I saw those guys and I wanted to be one of them.
Secondly, I loved food from the beginning. Every year on our birthdays, my parents let us choose the restaurant for dinner. It was a year-long process for me to pick a restaurant. When I was a teenager, I learned how to make fettuccine alfredo. I cooked it for a friend on the cheerleading squad. Before I knew it, I had the entire squad eating fettuccine alfredo at my house and we all became friends. That’s when I realized how food can influence people. I might have known at eight that I wanted to be a chef, but by the time I was 14, I was all in.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I don’t have a specific cuisine, what is important to me is flavor. Cooking with the seasons is my approach. Whether I am cooking a private dinner for a party of 10 or making food for my one-year- old, seasonality and high quality is where I start. As chefs, we source ingredients and execute the cooking process. The first part is one of the most important aspects of it. When I was young and traveling, I realized a tomato in winter tasted like cardboard, but in the summer, it would burst with flavor. It was this self-awareness and recognition that drew me to focus on the simple aspects that make a dish great. My goal is to extract the most flavor, and to do that you need quality seasonal ingredients.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
When I was opening my first restaurant, I would drive around the neighborhood and stop and talk to people who lived in the area. I would tell them I was building a restaurant and would ask what they wanted on the menu. One man I remember in particular. He told me that no one around does a good pork chop. So, I honed-in on pork chop and it became a signature dish for eight years from that one conversation. The lesson here is that the most successful people in the food industry know their market.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
To be honest, I never really looked at it as hard times. When I was in New York, I was making $225 a week and my rent was $700. I did that for two years and though it was particularly challenging, I felt it was all a part of the process. There have been lots of ups and downs, this is a dynamic profession after all where you are managing people, perishable items, and logistics. When I opened my first restaurant, I didn’t have enough money to put gas in my car. Looking back, those times conditioned me to find discipline, to have the capacity to do a lot of things without letting the challenges consume me.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
First, understand your customer and your base. If you are making something that doesn’t relate to them, it’s not going to be successful. Secondly, source high quality ingredients. And lastly, execute the cooking process the right way and customers will love it.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
It depends on the environment. If I am out traveling with family, it might be sitting down to dinner with wine and a nice meal. Right now, I am on the road and because there aren’t a lot of dining options I’m eating in and cooking grass fed beef with green veggies. As you get older, the simpler the better.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
Awareness is my creativity boost, that is what starts the entire creative process in food. When I have to create a dish, I start with the seasonality and what I can get. But sometimes I will create a dish for a person. It’s about providing nourishment for the people you love and care about. My wife loves a stir fry, so I am constantly inspired to improve upon the dish. Recently, I cooked for a friend from Israel, so I incorporated some ingredients and flavors from that region. There are lots of different variables that come into play, but often it’s my awareness of my surroundings and the people I am with that decides how I am going to provide nourishment.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
With my Good Things Coming cannabis-infused edibles brand, I am in the process of creating some new products and potentially developing new brands for the industry. I am not sure if it will have a major impact, but I am focused on formulating products for different demographics within the cannabis market. Now that recreational sales are legal in Arizona, it’s opened up the opportunity to reach a whole new audience and customer base beyond medical marijuana patients.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
I personally don’t believe in burn out. If you are burned out, you don’t have clarity on your vision. I’ve never burned out,, I’ve instead changed and adapted. If you want to thrive as a chef or restaurateur, you need to be really clear on what you want to do. It’s long hours and takes you away from family, you’re in an environment where you are exposed to drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. It’s grueling, so if you are not clear on what you are doing, you will get burnt out. Clarity on goals and what you want to accomplish will help you thrive.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
1 — Being naive actually helps, it’s so hard to build a restaurant and make it successful. Being a little ignorant and naive about the process actually helps you. If I knew how hard it was, I would never have done it.
2 — Anyone can be in the food industry. You can love food and cook at home and still be connected. There is a place for everyone, so find a way to be a part of it that works for your lifestyle. Not everyone is meant to be a chef.
3 — It’s a flawed business, often when a restaurant is successful, you’ll be dealing with employee issues instead.
4 — Keep it simple. Early on, I always made it over complicated. Right now, I have a little taco place that is killing it.
5 — On a positive note, it is a very satisfying industry. Gratifying because, my love language is cooking for friends and family. I’ve always gotten to play the hero because people want to be nourished. My wife knows I’m always going to have good food around, I think that was a big selling point.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
If you are visiting Arizona, try the Good Things Coming Very Cherry gummy edibles. They are superior products with a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio and made from fresh cherries that we puree. The quality and flavor is there without any artificial flavors. Our French Chocolate Brownie Bites are also delicious. They are an incredible product with a phenomenal effect on people and made with Verona chocolate.
On the restaurant end, we have the Sonoran Taco at Taco Chelo. When you squeeze a lime on top, the char from the meat, the spiciness of the dry chili, and the shaved cabbage and avocado salsa, everything just comes together.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Chef Dad is a project I really want to work on. I want to inspire parents to connect with their kids through food and create healthier households by giving them the skill set to make better decisions and choices. Inevitably, it will help them live longer and help their kids thrive. Lots of parents are busy or feel they don’t know how to cook or it’s a chore, so they default to processed or fatty foods. I want to help break that cycle and make eating a positive, nourishing, and feel-good experience.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!