By Mandy Holmes
Photo by Claudia Johnstone
Have you ever wondered who is behind your favorite menu items at your go-to restaurants? If those eateries include Postino WineCafe, Joyride Taco House, Federal Pizza, Windsor or Churn, it’s Eric Ramirez.
As the culinary director for local restaurant group, Upward Projects, Ramirez develops original and innovate dishes alongside the restaurant’s talented chefs, which is right up the Arizona Culinary Institute grad’s alley.
Originally from Texas, Ramirez has called Arizona home for 15 years. After more than a decade spent in the kitchens at well-established restaurants throughout town, Ramirez joined the Upward Projects family and hasn’t looked back. Thanks to an impressive executive team, cool concepts, killer menus, and good vibes all around, he knew it was the perfect fit for him.
“[I love the feeling of] Creating something out of nothing, and for that something to make people feel good, that’s amazing! That’s why we do what we do,” he says.
Recently Ramirez and his team rolled out the first major revisions to the Postino menu, adding a new section called “Snacky Things” that includes shareable plates like Blistered Shishito Peppers, Crispy Cauliflower, and Meatballs with Goat Cheese.
“Postino is as unique as they come. It’s an amazing concept and we get to grow it in some of the coolest communities that we love being part of. It’s time everyone knows who we are,” Ramirez says.
Ramirez is currently adding seasonal updates to the Windsor and Federal Pizza menus and working to bring Postino to more people on a daily basis. In 2019, the Postino menu will receive another revamp and Joyride Taco customers will see new offerings.
Ramirez relies on encouragement from his wife, friends and peers to experiment and explore his creativity in his career.
“I look for inspiration in everything from reading books and social media, to going to new cities and new restaurants, and all the great food shows out there,” he says.
When he’s not reinvigorating menus, Ramirez enjoys exploring the great state of Arizona and chasing his golf ball around one of the many Valley golf courses.
By Alison Bailin Batz
Photo by Claudia Johnstone
Justin Arellano is smooth, but his career is thanks to actual smoothies.
“After growing up in the Valley, I moved to New York City at 21, where I took a job managing a Jamba Juice,” Arellano says. “One of my regulars liked my speed, efficiency, and demeanor, so he recruited me to his coffee roasting company, La Colombe. One of my regulars there recruited me into the bar business.”
That regular worked for Milk and Honey, one of the world’s preeminent cocktail consultancies during the 2000s.
“Talk about trial by fire,” says Arellano, who trained for the next five years at Milk and Honey hot spots The Ship, Tribeca Grand Hotel and Little Branch.
But then, while out at a friend’s bar one night in 2015, something unexpected happened.
“I locked eyes with a woman at the bar, and fell in love,” Arellano recalls. “And while New York is amazing, we decided to move back to Arizona to be near family and to start one of our own.”
In 2017, the couple moved to the Valley and got married in Sedona. At the same time, Arellano took a bartending position at The Camby hotel. Earlier this year, he was promoted to lead mixologist.
“Trial by fire again. I was promoted two weeks before we launched a new dinner menu, which meant I had 14 days to dream up a new cocktail menu to pair with it,” Arellano says.
He also took on another challenge: Bar Brawl.
“Bar Brawl is an annual cocktail competition at Jade Bar where bartenders from across the region compete in Chopped-like rounds, getting mystery ingredients seconds before they are challenged to use them to make something mind blowing,” Arellano explains.
Though it was his first time, Arellano won! And his winning cocktail was a doozy.
“I infused Campari with coffee in a nod to my NYC roots, and then took it and the ingredients for a negroni and ran them through a Japanese coffee maker filled with hibiscus to infuse the floral flavors into it,” he says.
But, despite this seemingly high-concept cocktail, Arellano is a proponent of making drinks that are accessible to all, something he strives to do at The Camby nightly.