The walk to the Chef Kitchen at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia is a doozy. The quaint grotto is nestled inside the resort’s sprawling 32 acres and while I could have done the walk in February, today it’s 110º. So boy, was I thankful for Raul and his golf cart. As we zoom (sort of) off from the valet area, he gives me a quick tour of the resort, showing me among beautiful fountains and the restaurant Prado, a hammock by some green grass that I make note of for later. The resort is in the Spanish style so Arizona natives get to feel a little bit like they’re taking a vacation and it has amazing views of Camelback Mountain. Raul tells me that I will be able to see the mountains from the Chef Kitchen’s table. “In the winter they have the dinners outside,” he tells me.
Having dinner inside the grotto kitchen isn’t a disappointment. I was so happy to be invited to dine as media so I could share a very special evening with you. The chef’s kitchen is bright with lots of windows and the decor is inviting with spices lining the walls and lit candles for ambiance. The area seats 24 guests and I was delighted to be one of them. Even as I walked in, the chef’s kitchen smelled of warm spice and a crisp white wine was placed in my hand. Hello, I’m home.
The dinner began with Torres Wines’ Pazo de Bruxas and hors d’oeuvres during ‘golden hour’ for which Chef prepared an eggplant bruschetta and prosciutto-wrapped melon as we mingled in the bungalow that served as our restaurant. The Chef Kitchen dinners are lovely not just because the food is delicious (it is, we will get into that), but because it feels like your friend invited you over to their house for a dinner party. Except that friend is Chef Marcos Seville who is personable and clearly enjoying himself as he works with his team to create exciting, flavorful dishes for his guests. Maybe the best part of coming to his dinner parties is you don’t have to bring over your own wine or even ask politely if he needs help because all he wants to do is feed you.
Chef Marcos is a native to Arizona and no stranger to the flavors of the southwest. His culinary program at Prado is a love letter to Spanish culture, featuring tapas dishes and elegant entrées like adobo spiced chicken though, we would try to steer you directly to his grilled octopus salad.
Don’t be afraid of grilled octopus. Yes, they’re massive in real life and they can squeeze themselves into holes smaller than a nickel and unlock their own cages, but once you get ahold of them and grill them, they’re quite delightful. For the first course of our chef kitchen dinner, we were presented with a charred octopus with a goat cheese mousse and warm chorizo mignonette.
Usually, mignonettes are reserved for oysters, but today, chef felt like being fancy and doing something different. It worked. The charred octopus wasn’t rubbery, which sometimes octopus can be (not to scare you!), instead, this dish was rich and tender. The Meyer lemon cut through the heaviness of the dish giving the impression that this course was calorie free (it was not, but we can pretend).
One of the nice things about the Chef Kitchen Series, if you are social, is that the dinner party really is just that -a dinner party. You get to talk and mingle with people at your table who really want to be there and enjoy a quiet moment without Twitter or Instagram (unless you’re media and you have to because that’s the whole reason you’re there…). The woman next to us looked at her octopus dish and smiled weakly, “I’m gonna try it!” she says happily, but clearly afraid. If there was ever a time to do it, it’s when Chef Marcos slow roasts and then broils it before presenting it in a beautiful little package right in front of you, serving from the left like we learned in finishing school. Food and life lesson? Try something new when you go out, even if it’s just throwing yourself into a dinner party full of strangers. It makes the experience a lot more fun.
The second course, a venison loin with a honey tempranillo glaze and Manchego saffron risotto, was paired with Torres Wines’ Celeste Crianza made with Tinto Fino grapes.
Let me be super honest here; red wine tastes like Passover dinners to me. That’s not a bad thing, my family has always presented amazing meals at Passover, it’s just that the wine is always red and I always thought I didn’t like it. Times change my friends. I still don’t know a lot about red wine other than the fact that it will stain your teeth a lovely purple hue, but I do know that the Celeste is picked at night to stop oxidation and whatever Torres is doing, keep doing it. This wine is full bodied with almost a cherry flavor and a subtle spice that paired with our venison loin.
The venison was tender and matched with a Manchego saffron risotto. I hardly ever order risotto in restaurants. Risotto from a restaurant either turns out like mortar or crunchy and inedible. I won’t do it! So I worried for the risotto at the chef kitchen dinner. I didn’t have to, the risotto was creamy and cooked al dente, the way the basmati rice needs to be. The venison wasn’t gamey at all and warm, earthy flavors of the meat did well with the salted and aromatic risotto.
Our third course was a roasted lamb belly with papas bravas. Potatoes are delightful any way they’re served. Fried, roasted, I don’t care as long as it’s a potato. Papas bravas have an adorable name and plated next to the lamb belly made them look like the fanciest tater tots I’ve ever seen. If you’ve ever eaten lamb, and you should, lamb has an unmistakable lamb flavor. That might sound strange, but if you’ve eaten lamb, you understand. You will never mistake lamb for say, pork. Most lambs that we eat in the US are grass-raised in New Zealand and the grass notes translate into a piece of meat that tastes fresh and bold and pairs exceptionally well with other bold spices or herbs, such as mint. Chef paired the roasted lamb belly with a slightly spicy blackberry Gremolata that married well with the lamb. The course was paired with Torres Wines’ Salmos, a blend of Garnacha Cariñena and Syrah; a slightly spicy red that sweetened up after a bite of the spicy blackberry gremolata.
Of course, then it was time for something sweet and naturally, a bit of an aperitif. Before our final course, brandy was distributed. I like brandy. In things. The drink I mean. Not the singer, though I like her, too (shout out to 1997’s Cinderella TV movie). I’m not usually one for sipping brandy with cigars or anything, but Torres gave me some Jaime I brandy before our cast iron bread pudding and I pretended I knew what I was doing. Someone told me to breathe through my mouth to experience the smell and they were right. Instead of the strong alcohol experience I had with my nose, I instead found the warm honey scent which was then all the more noticeable when I took a sip. There was a slight touch of caramel warmth at the end, and the overall mouthfeel was very smooth. The slight warmth made the bread pudding even better, bringing out sweetness and rich, buttery moments. If you haven’t had bread pudding in a mini cast iron, by the way, you’re doing it wrong.
I left the secret garden dinner happy, full, and well-aware that I actually like red wine even though I’d been avoiding it for so long, especially when it’s paired with a perfectly cooked risotto.
If you would like to join Chef Marcus for a Chef’s Secret Garden Dinner, and I highly recommend you do if you are looking for an elegant evening that you will remember for a very long time, reserve your seat ahead of time (it’s required) by calling (480) 627-3161. The next dinner is July 27th and will be in honor of National Scotch Day (Yup! It’s a thing!).
I was invited to partake for gratis, but this did not change my thoughts on the dinner. I learned a lot about wine and the Secret Garden chef’s kitchen dinner was enchanting.