Posh Improvisational Cuisine serves up surprises
by Georgann Yarafor
February 22, 2011
One of the first words out of chef Joshua Hebert's mouth was a clue to his destiny.
Although his Posh Improvisational Cuisine restaurant in Scottsdale focuses on dinner, as a baby, Hebert seemed to know what the most important meal of the day was.
As an adult, Hebert has been stirring up the Valley dining scene with his no-menu Scottsdale eatery since opening on New Year's Eve 2008. His concept: Let customers create their own tasting menu by selecting the number of courses and noting any dislikes, meat-temperature preferences or allergies. Hebert takes over from there, surprising diners with dishes he comes up with on the fly.
Items range from the traditional - New York steak or prawns - to the exotic, such as baby octopus or frog legs.
While Hebert has a general idea of what he will serve, much of his work is spontaneous and fueled by his creative juices and passion for globally inspired cuisine.
"It makes running the restaurant difficult, having no set plan. But it's become the benchmark of the restaurant," he said.
Hebert stays away from any dish too controversial, endangered or in short supply.
But he said he keeps his edge with treats rarely found on American plates. A past surprise hit was turtle, a dish more popular in Asian countries. Hebert's turtle posole and turtle fritters pleased a variety of palates.
For patrons who can get in the right state of mind, devouring kangaroo or quail yields bragging rights, particularly with men, Hebert said.
"It's another notch on the belt," he said. "If you can get over the cute factor of the animal, it's just another protein."
While in junior high, Hebert realized his interest in food was more than simple enjoyment. He started cooking in the eighth grade, mostly with recipes found in cookbooks dedicated to Southwest cuisine, which was the hip trend at the time.
In high school, Hebert discovered his talent for cooking impressed the ladies.
By the time he graduated from Brophy College Preparatory, he had decided to turn his hobby into a career.
His first job was working for chef Mark Tarbell at his Phoenix restaurant, where for five years he developed his skills as a line cook and sous chef. Hebert went on to hone his skills in San Francisco and Japan before returning to Tarbell's and heading kitchens in Scottsdale and Gilbert.
Hebert credited Tarbell with giving him a solid foundation to build his career.
"I learned not just how to cook but how to be a professional. How to be everything that really makes for good in this business," he said.
After 1 1/2 years of planning, Posh opened in the midst of a recession and at a price point that was a bit higher than average.
Hebert took a "bare-bones" approach with spending and dedicated his money toward food and staff that would provide what he hoped would be a perfect dining experience. He had no advertising budget and relied on word of mouth to generate customers.
"I had no delusions of grandeur. No one had money, and everyone who had it wasn't spending it. I was nervous as hell in the beginning," he said.
Soon, the restaurant was doing 10 to 25 dinners a night and holding steady. He maintains a conservative stance, which Hebert says has been key to his survival as other independent restaurants have collapsed. He credited staff members who were willing to go home early during slow evenings.
"The cooperation came from the team and having people who understand it's better to lose seven or eight hours on a paycheck but know that paycheck will be there months from now," he said.
Regular patron Brett Johnston has been eating at Posh with his wife, Susan, for 1 1/2 years. The Cave Creek resident said the wild-boar bacon is his all-time favorite item, one he likes to enjoy at one of the kitchen-counter seats where he can watch the chefs in action.
"It's the most amazing, unique thing in the Valley, and the food is right there with it," Johnston said.
Johnston said he has introduced about a dozen of his friends to the restaurant, and they've all become fans of Posh and Hebert.
"He's the kind of person who takes the time to get to know his customers. He and his staff make you feel like you're wanted there," Johnston said.
Hebert suggests arriving between 5 and 5:30 p.m., when diners can get a 20 to 30 percent discount off regular prices.
He sees his restaurant as a bridge to fine dining that can offer diners a great experience without the stuffiness or excessive tab.
"We want to make sure people don't forget food can be really interesting ... that we still have something going on until things pick up again," he said.