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‘The Governor’ definitely gets my vote – as dessert

Citizen Associate Editor

PHOENIX – The best-selling dessert on the menu at Franco’s Italian Caffe is an artery-clogging chocolate concoction called “The Governor.”

The name makes sense. Because the chef who concocted the dessert served 6 1/2 years as Arizona’s governor – and says he is “very serious” about wanting to hold the office again.

Still, the man offering tastes of The Governor in this upscale restaurant looks strangely out of place in his white chef’s tunic – the one with “Fife – Pastry Chef” embroidered over his heart.

Yes, J. Fife Symington III really is a pastry chef. And yes, indeed, he really does think he may run for governor again. And if he does, Symington is supremely confident that the voters of Arizona will next year return him to office.

In Arizona, stranger things have happened.

While the reviews of Symington’s years as the head of Arizona government were mixed, there have been nothing but favorable comments for The Governor. Symington is quite a good chef – trained at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. Even Pizza Today, a glossy trade magazine that lavishly praised Franco’s food in its February cover story, mentioned The Governor dessert.

And apparently the current governor – Janet Napolitano – likes it, too. Franco Fazzuoli, who co-owns the restaurants with Symington and other investors, said Napolitano has been in to eat a couple of times and finished off her meal with The Governor.

Aside from Symington’s mention in Pizza Today, it is not his considerable skill in the kitchen that has landed him back in the news. It is his admission that he again wants to be governor.

When he was Arizona’s Republican governor from January 1991 to September 1997, no one had an “I can take him or leave him” attitude about Fife Symington. His supporters thought he walked on water; his detractors believed he didn’t know how to swim. His State of the State speeches were not to be missed, as he pounded the lectern and rolled out grenades left and right.

And, as befitting such a man, he didn’t leave office in a conventional way, either.

The story is well known, but this is it in brief: In September 1997, Symington was convicted of criminal charges that he defrauded lenders as a real estate developer before he became governor. He resigned and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Symington appealed and, in 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned his conviction. Two years later, he won a going-out-of-office pardon from President Bill Clinton, whom Symington had saved from drowning in a childhood incident in Massachusetts.


Today, Symington has come full circle. He has an office and co-owns Franco’s in the Camelback Esplanade – an upscale development that Symington put together in his developer days.

“This is the heart of everything I supposedly did wrong,” Symington said Tuesday as he pointed at the complex, which includes several restaurants, theaters, shops, five office towers and the Ritz-Carlton Phoenix hotel.

Although out of politics, Symington has kept his fingers in it. He has a political consulting company and last week found an innovative way to meld his twin interests in cooking and politics.

He went to the Phoenix-area home of former Vice President Dan Quayle and cooked a dinner for 12 – after a group paid $16,000 in a charity auction for the experience. “I do it all, but pastry is what I really love to do,” Symington said.

That, and needling Napolitano.

Symington said his thoughts to oppose Napolitano when she seeks re-election next year galvanized just six weeks ago when he was invited to Napolitano’s State of the State speech. Symington sat in the front row, barely 20 feet from Napolitano. I watched him hang on her every word.

“I had not been to a speech like that before,” Symington said Tuesday. What really bedeviled him was Democrat Napolitano’s call for state-funded all-day kindergarten. Because parents would decide whether to send their children, Napolitano called it “school choice.”

As governor, Symington was a constant supporter of school vouchers. “She was being too cute and clever and trying to foist one over on the public,” Symington said of Napolitano’s speech.

Napolitano also took a slap at Symington-pushed tax cuts. His retort: “The tax cuts were one of the best thing to happen to this state.”

If he runs, Symington said, he will win. “The numbers do not favor her,” he said of the state’s Republican registration edge. “I would win Maricopa County and the rural areas. And I would do very well in Pima County.” When Symington won re-election in 1994, he carried Pima County.

But there is that troublesome criminal conviction – even though it was overturned. “It is what it is,” Symington said. “But the election wouldn’t be about that. If people are really hung up about that, I won’t be re-elected.

“I’m proud of my record. I’m not embarrassed by it,” he added. “I won (in court), but because of the press coverage, people don’t realize that.”

Should he be re-elected governor, Symington said, he will continue to cook. “If someone wants to discuss a government issue with me while I’m in the middle of making a tiramisu, let them.”

He said he will decide by May or June whether to challenge Napolitano. In the meantime, he has other things on his mind – a crème brûlée lemon tart he is working to perfect. “The key is to mitigate the tartness,” he explained.

That would be his same goal should he run for governor.

Mark Kimble’s column appears Thursdays. He also appears at 6:30 p.m. and midnight Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. Phone: 573-4662; fax: 573-4569; e-mail: mkimble@tucsoncitizen.com


The best-selling dessert at Franco’s Italian Caffe is “The Governor,” which pastry chef Fife Symington said he concocted by accident while experimenting in the kitchen.

The $6 dessert is touted on the menu as “low tax, high taste – the finest chocolate cake in Arizona.”

What’s in The Governor – the chocolate one?

On the bottom is a layer of dense, flourless chocolate cake made with Callebaut dark chocolate from Belgium. That is topped with chocolate mousse, then with another Callebaut chocolate cake with another layer of mousse. Then the entire thing is drizzled with a chocolate ganache.

Symington calls it “a cardiac arrest waiting to happen.” Maybe. But it is very, very good.

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