Meet the Team

Chef Rita French

Head Chef - Tempe Location

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Q: What influences your creativity in the kitchen?

I first always look to see what’s in season and what I can get from our farmers and vendors. I try to have a large portion of our menu plant based and ensure we have our customer favorites, like our sustainably sourced Pan Seared Salmon, Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl, and Arizona Grass Fed Burger on the menu. I do my best to listen to our customer requests, research top food trends, and seek the input of my fellow chefs on the Engrained culinary team. Without them, none of it would be possible!

Q: What is your culinary background?

I graduated from Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in 2001. From there I moved to northern Colorado to work on a guest ranch and fell in love with the state. After a few years, I moved to Arizona and started a 10 year journey working in the top hotels and resorts in the valley. I really enjoyed the hospitality side of foodservice and creating special memories for our guests. I was recognized as “Rising Star in the Phoenix Culinary Scene” and awarded the “Good Neighbor Award” by the Arizona Restaurant Association. I’ve been with Engrained Café for 5 years now and am so very proud of what we source, how we treat those ingredients, and our sustainability efforts. I am still amazed every day by the quality of food we produce daily for the volume of people we feed. It truly is extraordinary!

Q: What do you enjoy most about working at Engrained?

I love my team and the customers that really value what we do in Engrained. It takes a lot of planning, sourcing, and coordination to create a diverse menu monthly that our guests will enjoy.

Q: What stage of your life did you find culinary to be your passion?

I started cooking at age 7 when my mom started working overnights as a nurse. It was my job to cook for the family, so at first it came out of necessity and grew into a fun way to express myself through food and cooking.

Austin Johnson

Supervisor - Tempe Location

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Q: What do you enjoy most about supervising Engrained?

The thing I enjoy most about supervising Engrained is the teamwork that is required to successfully open and operate a restaurant each day. It is a lot of hard work, but working with so many skilled people who each have an assigned task makes it a fairly smooth process.

Q: What did you do before you came to Engrained?

My previous experience as the Sustainability Coordinator for Aramark at Arizona State University has really helped me understand Engrained’s sustainability intentions and live them each day. Whether it is training new student workers on our composting procedures, or educating our guests on our local and sustainable sourcing practices, sustainability is vital to our daily operations.

Q: What does fresh, local and sustainable mean to you?

With our seasonally rotating menu, guests can be sure that they are getting fresh, local and sustainably certified ingredients in any dish they choose. Chef Rita designs the menu with seasonal produce in mind, working with local distributors to source produce from local farms. Dishes like the Salmon and Korean Fried Cauliflower are a couple of my favorites due to the quality and local produce incorporated.

Q: What has working for Engrained taught you?

Travel is one of my passions, and experiencing local food in new places is the best way to get immersed in a new culture. Working at Engrained has taught me that it doesn’t matter if you live in the desert, high quality local ingredients are available if you are willing to seek them out!