Georgann Yara

Global kitchen

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It was a life-or-death decision when Carlos Manriquez’ mother sent him to a boarding school in North Dakota at the age of 14.

For the chef who launched Atlas Bistro, Mucho Gusto Taqueria & Mexican Bistro and the seven-month-old Twisted Eatery, it was one that altered his destiny – much to the pleased palates of Valley foodies.

“I was a very troubled kid in Mexico. My mom said I wouldn’t make it to 18, so she sent me away,” recalls Manriquez, 35.

Born and raised in Tijuana and Mexicali, Manriquez was the only Hispanic face out of 17 students from around the world whose parents also feared for their futures. Instead of a barrier, however, the melting pot created a bond.

Manriquez mastered speaking Swahili before English and most of his roommates were from Asia and Africa. Instead of rabble rousing on the weekends, they would gather in the kitchen and cook dishes from their respective native countries. It was only a matter of time before Manriquez and his pals were churning out cosmopolitan meals concocted of spices and sauces that would challenge even accomplished professionals.

Surrounded by the Midwest wildlife, Manriquez learned how to hunt. He started with baby goats, deer and fish. He discovered the pride in caring for each dish from the initial strike to its final placement on the plate.

“I learned to respect everything I kill and how to clean it. I took it to the next level and never looked back. After living in North Dakota I had a huge passion for it,” he says.

Manriquez’ repertoire is the culmination of his multicultural experiences. His mother owns a restaurant in Germany and he has spent extensive time all over Europe, particularly in France, where his daughter lives. He moved to Arizona 11 years ago to attend the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, and after graduating he continued more formal studies and working experience in California and the Caribbean. He earned a degree form California Poly Technical in San Luis Obisbo, specializing in dairy sciences.

“I am 100 percent Mexican, but I am a citizen of the world,” he says.

Growing up in Mexico, Manriquez and his brothers were constantly in the kitchen. His father was a dairy farmer, and he recalls first learning to chop tomatoes and lettuce.

“I have always had a passion for cooking. I was fortunate to be in the kitchen cooking with my family,” he says.

He cooked his first original dish – stingray – at the age of 11.

“I studied different recipes, bought the stingray and combined them to make my own,” he says.

Ever since, seafood remains Manriquez’ favorite and most used main ingredient, and a recipe is simply the starting point sure to be long abandoned once in Manriquez’ hands.

“I never follow recipes. I always do a fusion,” he says. Manriquez’ trio of restaurants reflect not only his diverse culinary prowess gained through experiences backpacking the globe for months at a time each summer. Their distinct personalities are indicative of the moods taken on by their creator.

His first, Atlas Bistro, is a Scottsdale BYOB geared toward the fine dining crowd. The menu includes two prix-fixe options and upper crust entrees like a ginger-cured duck, osso bucco Colorado Lamb Shank and clover honey Cornish game hen.

The more casual Mucho Gusto is a stone’s throw away from Arizona State University and packs patrons craving the basics, like Mexican street tacos and Grand Marnier-laced guacamole, or the more sophisticated dishes like the shrimp-and-crab-topped snapper and the Barra Vieja shrimp, which is bathed in a sauce made of roasted chiles and Coca-Cola.

But the baby of the family, Twisted, displays Manriquez’ edgier side. Located steps away from Atlas, Twisted is the opportunity to flaunt his fearlessness. While Atlas is a reflection of the chef’s ability to blend with the bluebloods, and Gusto pays homage to his homeland, Twisted comes from the side of Manriquez that lives out of a backpack in foreign lands, runs with the bulls in Spain and heads to Mexico as a bullfighter.

“I’m a bit of an adrenaline junky,” he says, chuckling. “Every year it’s different. I’ve been hurt quite a few times running. Bullfighting is a hobby, ever since I was a kid.”

Manriquez’ annual backpacking ventures are not just for pleasure. He collects pages of recipes and ideas and returns with inspiration – much of which materializes on his menus. In preparing the menu for Gusto, Manriquez backpacked from Cancún to Mexico City and lived with tribal people, who taught him how to make mole. He lived in small towns where he learned the secrets of unique sauces.

He has trekked through 44 countries and most recently returned from India and Hong Kong. Expect to see new interesting curry and seafood dishes on Twisted’s menu in the near future.

Manriquez describes the concept for his latest restaurant as a twist on comfort street food from all over the world. Eyebrow-raisers include: calamari and alligator bites, a Navajo-inspired hummus, and a bacon-wrapped meatloaf made from organic buffalo and wild boar.

But he has come to learn that putting his heart and soul into each invention does not ensure the chances he takes are always appreciated.

“Sometimes people read the menu and get up and leave. Maybe it’s because they don’t understand it. Maybe it doesn’t fit in with what they expect. That’s why it’s hard to listen to writers sometimes. They don’t spend hours in a kitchen with you,” he says. “It’s frustrating. It’s always a challenge, and there’s always something positive and negative.”

Manriquez said he gets much support from his family, particularly his employees.

“My kitchen crew is like my family. They are very loyal and I owe all of this to them,” he says.

He says his dream is not to get rich, but to enjoy living his dream.

“A lot of people told me when I opened Atlas and Mucho Gusto that they will fail,” Manriquez recalls. “But if you’re man enough or have the courage to do what you really want to, you should be content.”

Twisted Eatery
2515 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
(480) 990-1419

Mucho Gusto Taqueria & Mexican Bistro
603 W. University Drive, Tempe
(480) 921-1850

Atlas Bistro
2515 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
(480) 990-2433

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