Chef Aaron May has a quick mind and a low threshold for boredom, which goes a long way toward explaining the local restaurant empire he’s building. Given his passion for food and irrepressible creativity, it’s hard to imagine any other path for this driven but surprisingly easygoing guy.
His passion for good food came early. By the age of 15, he was working in a restaurant kitchen, and by 20, he had left the university and his political science major to enroll in the culinary arts program at Scottsdale Community College. Upon graduation, May left for Paris, where he spent a year studying at Ecole Ritz Escoffier and working in local restaurants to refine his skills as a classically trained chef. When he returned to the States, he took his first professional position at the Four Seasons Resort in Scottsdale, working at Acacia (the property’s fine dining restaurant) before moving to Deseo at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa to work with celebrity chef Douglas Rodgriguez. May spent another year with Rodriguez in Manhattan, where he was mentored in the modern, deconstructionist approach to cooking he still employs today.
A stint at Mario Batali’s Casa Mono was finishing school for May, who moved back to the Valley to open his own Spanish tapas restaurant (Sol y Sombra) to rave reviews in 2006. In recent years, May has forged partnerships to open Over Easy (a popular breakfast restaurant with two locations), The Lodge (a funky North Woods-style bar), Renegade Tap and Kitchen (a welcome respite from the mundane in north scottsdale), May’s Counter (a Southern food spot in Tucson) and Praying Monk(a high energy modern american beer cafe in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale). Like May himself, each venue is sophisticated yet approachable.
His restaurants have appeared on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and The Learning Channel’s “Best Food Ever,” as well as earning a fiercely loyal fan base and many local awards, including “Best Tapas,” and “Best Speakeasy.” May has also garnered attention from national publications such as Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Sunset Magazine and USA Today. In 2010, he was inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame as “Chef Extraordinaire.” Meanwhile, he never sits still or stops thinking about possible new restaurant concepts.