Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Omni Montelucia Resort and Spa In Scottsdale Hosts The Inaugural James Beard Foundation Desert to Dish Weekend.

Many people think of Arizona as a western state that is mostly desert, few mountains, sparsely populated and no home gown protein and produce. Those who think that are wrong, very wrong. Recently we explored Arizona with our boots literally on the ground. Arizona is a very abundant state with large certified organic farms, dairies, distilleries, breweries and yes, wineries. 

 What brought us to Arizona you may ask? That question is easy! The lovely Omni Montelucia Resort in Scottsdale hosted the James Beard Foundation and five renowned Chefs from all over the nation for the inaugural Desert to Dish culinary event. 

Our car arrived at this resort nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain, in the exclusive enclave of Paradise Valley. The Omni Scottsdale Resort &Spa at Montelucia is your own oasis inspired by Spain’s Andalusia region. 

Walking the property, it is very reminiscent of a picturesque Andalusian village featuring arching entryways, tranquil fountains and floral walkways. If its pampering you desire, we found an array of rejuvenating experiences at the award-winning Joya Spa, where we relaxed and decompressed in Scottsdale's only Hammam spa. It didn’t take long until we dove into one of the three pools, where stunning mountain views got us in the right mood to explore the restaurants and libation offerings for us to sip and savor. The Montelucia shows off its critically acclaimed restaurants including Prado or you can retreat to an elegantly appointed guest room perfect for stargazing on your private patio. No matter what brings you to Scottsdale, the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia is perfect premier destination for luxury and romance, relaxation and recreation. In our case, it was the James Beard Foundation and Desert to Dish. 

The sun was setting just behind the mountain and it was time for us to meet the Chefs for the first time. Underneath a sky blanketed in stars we arrived at the reception in Chefs Kitchen & Herb Garden. Resort Executive Chef Michael Cairns welcomed us with a lovely evening of chef tastings, wine pairings handcrafted cocktails and craft breweries all sourced from Arizona. Enjoying the night on the lawn we mingled with the Desert to Dish chefs and local purveyors who we would become very close with over the next few days.

Mornings at this world class resort bring us a feeling of peace and rejuvenation. This morning however will begin an experience that we will remember for a very long time. We would spend the day teamed up with an incredible chef as we scoured the countryside sourcing ingredients for a dinner with the James Beard Foundation.

Chef Michale Carins Executive Chef at the Omni Montelucia introduced us to our Chef partners for the weekend. Chef Brain Luscher, The Grape Restaurant Dallas Tx, Chef Jason Porter, Seven Glaciers Anchorage Ak, Chef Joe Magnanelli , CUCINA Urbana + Enoteca San Diego Ca, Chef Joey Beato, Community Tavern, The Portage Chicago Il, and Chef Brandon Foster, Vesta Dipping Grill Denver Co. Introductions over, we joined a chef and headed out to find the best products available from the local purveyors.

Scott teamed up with Chef Brandon Foster and headed out to the first stop, Crows Goat Dairy. Wendell Crow  and his wife Rhonda  has partnered with their daughter Mary and her husband Erik to start Crow’s Dairy in Buckeye, AZ where they make a variety of products from the milk of their large herd of purebred Nubian goats. This was a true educational experience where we learned “the ladies” all know their names and come when called. These “ladies” are protected by two layers of security against predators. The first level are Turkeys, yes they kill and eat rattlesnakes! Yes, we all knew that right? Of course the great overseer of protecting the “ladies” is a beautiful large Great Pyrenees, this large canine greets guests with a big smile and a lick unless you’re a coyote. Having milked a goat, tasted some of the best cheese and goat milk paired with Arizona craft beer (it’s very good!); we loaded up our ingredients and moved on to the next stop. 

Across the valley, Elaine teamed up with Chef Brain Luscher where they made at stop at George B. Brooks Community School Greenhouse and Arizona Microgreens. Arizona Microgreens was founded by brothers Joseph Martinez and David Redwood and produce organic microgreens for restaurants, retail, throughout Arizona. It was interesting to see their special relationship with a school. They are located within the greenhouse at the George B. Brooks Sr. Community School and operate as a social enterprise that creates employment opportunities for the local community and contributes to the financial sustainability of the Community School. Choosing just the right mix, it was time to continue the afternoon’s mission of finding locally produced products.

Chef Brandon Foster and Scott stopped into Cancer Treatment Center of America to meet Executive Chef Frank Caputo and tour his certified organic farm. After a wonderful lunch prepared by Chef Caputo with ingredients literally sourced from right outside the kitchen, it was time to roll up the sleeves and get to work on the farm. While walking the farm, Chef Caputo explained that the patients at his center do better by enjoying fresh organic products produced and sourced on the campus. Walking an organic farm picking produce on our knees with two chefs brought home what this whole experience was really all about.

Elaine and Chef Brain Luscher stopped into Blue Sky Organic Farms and Arizona Cheese.
The first stop was the Blue Sky Organic Farms, a family farm located in Litchfield AZ. Blue Sky Organic farm been producing some of the finest certified organic produce in the Valley. They can also be found at the Scottsdale Farmers Market on Saturday and are now bringing a new CSA program, (Community Supported Agriculture), where neighbors can support the farm in exchange for a weekly share of the harvest. R. J. Johnson, the vocal advocate for the Farm and representative of Chef turned farmer, David Vose’s farming techniques, gave us an extensive tour of the Farm, including providing for us a lovely lunch, with produce from the fields.  During lunch he told us how he has seen the results of eating certified organic foods and how this has helped many people.

 Although coming from a restaurant management background, he had no real understanding three years ago of the power of food in creating and maintaining your health. He now travels throughout the Valley teaching others of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle that includes eating whole foods. “I starting meeting people that where profoundly affected by their food, including three women, who were diagnosed with terminal cancer, to the point where they could not take anything else to help their situation, went on a 100% organic juice diet and they are now cancer free.” “So, I have seen it and I believe and I preach it.” “I have spent tens of thousands of dollars to be certified organic, and we farm for flavor not just for yields.”

 We were glad to have the opportunity to visit a place that exudes passion and some of the best produce in Arizona. For those who want to venture to the farm, there is a well stocked store open to the public and they their products are available at Whole Foods stores also. David Vose’s produce is sold across the country and can be found in some of the best restaurants in the nation.
 We took our gifts from our dedicated host and looked forward to see what Chef Luscher was going to create with the bounty of the earth.

This tasty stop was just that, lovely and rich, in some of the best cheese around.  Nearly two-and-a-half years after discussions began, the Arizona Cheese Company made its first vat of Blue Cheese and Cheddar Cheese on Monday, July 20, 2009. Manufacturing and packaging has continued during typical five-day weeks while volumes are gradually increased. Plan designs enable processing eventually of around 500,000 pounds of milk per day. Arizona has become second only to Wisconsin in the total number of pounds produced of Blue-veined cheeses, and is now the largest producer of private-label Blue-veined cheeses in the United States. For Hand-Crafted Artisan cheese made from All Natural, 100% Fresh Cultured Grade A Arizona Milk, Salt & Enzymes, this is the only place to go. Having gathered the bounty of the day it was time to put it to good use.

What is a dinner without a protein? With a Cheshire Cat smile Chef Brandon Foster visited The Meat Shop where he found a variety of beef, pork, chicken and lamb are sourced from Arizona farms and ranches. Coolers full, dreams of the dinner yet to come, excited all involved in the harvest.

This gastronomic weekend, kept our palates constantly at work with a variety of master culinary classes taught by the five visiting chefs, all unique in their own way. As oenophiles and sommeliers ourselves it was a pleasure and honor to taste and compare Chilean and Arizona wines with Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer as the afternoon began to turn to evening.   

Sitting in the cozy Mbar at the Omni Montelucia, we reflected on the experience that we have participated in over the last several days. This experience had us in organic farms, dairies, wineries, breweries and butcher shops collecting the best Arizona had to offer with renowned chefs. We saw all of our work sourcing ingredients with the chefs come together on a perfectly prepared plate of Arizona goodness. 

The inaugural James Beard Foundation desert to dish was a huge success and look forward to next year’s event.  Looking back over the weekend and the whole experience gave us a feeling that we know a whole lot more about Arizona and its diverse purveyors bringing healthy products to your plate.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Oak Restaurant in Dallas Is The Next Jewel In Chef John Tesar's Crown.

In Henry Van Dyke poem, Trees, he gives his homage to “A pillar of power, a dome of delight, a shrine of song and a joy of sight”.  Just as Van Dyke was inspired to pen  those words so many years ago, perhaps it was this affiliation to the large Oak tree outside the bustling restaurant that bears its name that created the inspiration of delight and deliciousness into the very fabric of this innovated and chic Dallas eatery. Partnering with acclaimed twice nominated James Beard Chef John Tesar, the Apheleia Restaurant Group, continues to bring innovation and vision to the burgeoning Dallas restaurant scene. Chef de cuisine, Ross Demers, and executive pastry chef, David Collier are at the helm in  creating a menu that is highly creative using the best available ingredients to ensure freshness and superb taste and texture on every  plate that emerges from the kitchen. On a recent trip to Dallas, we had the opportunity to discover “Oak” and engage in some of the lovely and thoughtful menu items. 

The inviting open space is awash in browns and beiges accented with silver-toned lighting that gravitates the eye to the unique holographic tree that changes color, seasons and foliage throughout the dining experience. The bar area is shrouded with rendering of a mighty oak etched into the glass wall, sweeping you into the moment.  As trees provide shelter from the elements, you have that sense of comfort and tranquility as you sip on one of the many hand-crafted cocktails. We started with the “Antoinette”, a luscious libation that really accented the fragrant dark muddled blackberries, impressing us with the freshness of ingredients. One may want to try the “Mighty Oak”, as it is the namesake and has the refreshing hints of lemon, ginger, and mint all perfectly intermingled with the George Dickle Rye and topped with club soda.

After a few relaxing moments at the bar, we were cordially escorted to our table to be greeted by our lively waiter, who proceeded to make sure that we are informed on all specials, offering any answers to questions we may have.  We took a look at the well-crafted wine list, and decided to enjoy a glass of the Lemelson, Thea’s selection, pinot noir from the Willamette Valley.  Pinot noir is usually a good choice in pairing with seafood and some beef dishes, and this seemed to be the best choice for our dining excursion. We began our meal with the Heirloom tomato salad accented with refreshing tiny slices of watermelon, olive oil powder and black olive oil. The combination of the unique forms of olive oil gave this salad an elevated kiss of creativity. 

We also were immensely impressed with the tiny cones of Hamachi Tartare, with green curry and wasabi tobeko. Each miniature cone, was filled with the delight of the ocean, as we gleefully indulged in this playful rendition.  The main dish of Alaskan Halibut, studded with woody chantrelle mushrooms , added brightness of acidity from the cabernet tomato,  and accented with summer truffles and maderia port invoked a chorus of om’s and ahh’s with each forkful. The moniker of all the dishes rang true of the freshness of the ingredients and the artful creativities of the Chefs as they brought an abundance of flavors and passion to our plates. 

We were not at our fini, although well satiated, when we knew that a master was guiding the delivery of our desserts.  James Beard “Best Pastry Chef” semifinalist, David Collier, is the Executive Pastry Chef that loves to bring innovation and expertise to the sweet part of the meal.  The Strawberry Pistachio with pistachio sucree, mousseline, sponge cake, and strawberry sorbet was a spectacular way to end the meal.  This take on the familiar strawberry shortcake was incredibly whimsical and lovely to behold, but better yet the strawberry mousseline gave a delicateness to the flavor, and played well with the other elements.  We walked away beaming with yet another great find in the Dallas area.

Whether in Dallas on business or pleasure a meal at any the restaurants that Chef Tesar has been pouring his culinary magic into including Knife, El Bolero, and Oak. He and his partners continue to come up with more culinary outlets and we are excited to see what is on the horizon as the leaves of the organization continue to spread.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Della's Kitchen at The Delano Hotel at Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas Features Fresh, Sustainable Cuisine.

Della’s a fresh approach to food at the Delano hotel in Las Vegas is a refreshing and healthy way to start your day in Las Vegas. Open for breakfast and lunch only, Della’s is a homey, wholesome eatery located at the upscale, non-gaming hotel located within the Mandalay Bay Hotel..
This unique restaurant and chic hotel are a respite away from the clanging of slot machines but near enough to get your gamble on at the Mandalay Bay Resort.

Executive Chef Calimlim, Elaine Harris

Della’s refreshing urban chic approach to menu items includes, sandwiches, burgers and entrees featuring grass-fed sustainable beef as well as hormone and antibiotic-free chicken. A year has passed since the opening of the Delano and Della’s. These two gems continue to bring superior dining and hotel accommodations to Las Vegas visitors.

We had a chance to celebrate the one year anniversary of Della’s with a Farmhouse dinner showcasing the ingredients that make this venue stand out using sustainable and local ingredients. Not only was this dinner highlighting Executive Chef Calimlim and his “Rustic Harvest “recipes, the entire restaurant was transformed into focused display of local, sustainable products both edible and usable.

Upon entering the open restaurant, sans outdoor walls, we noticed the abundance of greenery that was encased in flat trays located on tables in the area that served as a reception space. Curious as to what this overabundance of greenery was all about, we were quickly introduced to John McCarthy owner of Las Vegas Herbs LLC; the man responsible for this incredible display of edible plants.

He quickly pointed out that this was an ample display of the many micro-greens used in the recipes at Della including, Genevese Basil, Arugula, Chives, and other assorted micro greens. These little plants are tiny versions of the large leaf plants that may seem minuet, but pack a punch of flavor in the various farm to table recipes. These vibrant miniature plants do add superior flavor into the dishes at Della and a favorite addition to many of the restaurants in Las Vegas; For more information on these delectable mirco-greens go to

Another interesting display was that of Blumarble glassware. Co-founders, Jennifer Jordan and Rachel Cohen started with a simple idea to collect as many bottles as possible from the Las Vegas strip and upcycle them into beautiful products for everyday use. Now collecting an average of 15, 000 bottles per month from various hotels, these ladies transform unwanted bottles into lovely jewelry, glassware, chandeliers and other home d├ęcor items. “What was once tossed aside and used up of all their worth, can now breathe a new life in a gorgeous sustainable way they stated”. Blumarble is located in the Downtown Container Park and can be reached at

Along the tables of greenery, waiters wandeedr about with trays of passed appetizers including Braised Beer Croquettes, Roasted Squash and Lobster Shooters, and our favorite of the night, House-Made Gnocchi with chanterelles served wih Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc , Marlborough, New Zealand and the Sebastiani Merlot , Sonoma USA.

Following our introduction of ample appetizers, we were presented with the first course salad, which was an Acorn squash roasted to perfection accompanied by a hint of Humboldt Fog bleu cheese and adorned with bright red pomegranate seeds. The sweetness of the squash worked well with the salinity of the pungent bleu cheese that again was accented by the pop of bright citrus from the pomegranate seeds. This dish was paired with the Chalk Hill Chardonnay, Sonoma, USA, which quickly became our favorite pairing of the evening.

We progressed through two meat courses of Durham Ranch pork cheeks with a celery root puree followed by a fabulously cooked Durham Ranch venison loin with parsnip puree which had us in awe of the Chef’s skillfulness in creating such lovely dishes with rather interesting meat choices.

We happened to be sitting next to the purveyors of the meat and discovered that Freedom Meats is a local company that believes in bringing the freshest meat to the table. We were glad to have this opportunity to try their products and we could not have been more delighted at the quality and freshness that was provided by Freedom meats which source form Nevada ranchers.

Although delightfully satiated, we were of course, presented with the FINI of spiced caramelized apple confit, and house made honey orange gelato, served with the Elvio Tinero, Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont Italy. This was the perfect ending to meal that was well worth the $100 dollar price point. We know that Della’s will continue to present the farmhouse dinners as the response was immensely positive. We don’t want to wait for the second anniversary to have another chance to dine for dinner at Della’s. Della’s is open for breakfast and dinner for more information go to: