Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tabletop in action!

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain
One of the things that I look forward to each summer is the Lunch and Learn series at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain resort in Phoenix. The resort is beautiful - lush, private, contemporary and yet intimate (sometimes "contemporary = cold", but not here!), and boasts two amazing hospitality venues which channel the Tabletop vibe of making guests feel welcomed and like family: their restaurant, Elements, and the Jade Bar lounge.

The chef, Beau MacMillan, is the ringmaster of Elements, and of the Lunch and Learn series each summer where other top chefs from around the world come and share recipes, techniques and philosophies of cooking and entertaining with those gathered for the event. The usual pattern for these events is arriving and being greeting with a glass of champagne or sparkling wine, just the way it should be done! The pour is generous and continuous till the start of the program. Beau, as host, then gets the show on the road and makes everyone feel welcomed. He is truly happy you are there and sharing the experience, and his love of food and hosting is palpable. He then introduces the guest chef, who often has a connection to Beau (the man gets around!), and the event is underway, which usually includes a demonstration of a three course meal with each course paired with a wine chosen to accentuate that course presented by a noted wine expert.

Yesterday, the chef was Akira Back, executive chef of Yellowtail at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and he presented an amazing meal of big eyed tuna pizza with micro shiso and truffle oil, grilled large tiger prawns with yuzu lemon brown butter and tomato concasse, and tempura honeydew melon with vanilla bean ice cream and mesquite honey. Each course demonstration included tips on what to use for substitution if certain ingredients were unavailable, or you had a different pallet (how great is that - talk about generous and hospitable!), and all the while Chef Back talked about the relationship between us and the ingredients used, and the importance of hospitality and sharing a meal together.

Instead of wine pairings for each course, yesterday's meal was paired with drinks from the Jade Bar's mixologist, Jason Asher, who created 3 signature cocktails to go with each course. To keep things light and fresh, these cocktails were sake and shochu (distilled sake) based, and highlighted fresh ingredients, which the Jade Bar is known for (everything is juiced and infused fresh- no mixes or pre-made here!) To accompany the pizza, Jason created a shiso Collins (made with shochu), for the prawns, a kaffir yuzu gimlet (sake based) and finally for the dessert, an almond vanilla 'saketini' (made with unfiltered sake and with the bar's house-made almond milk.)

Table XII at Elements
As you can tell, the food and drink were spectacular, but it was the hospitality of the entire crew, led by Chef Beau, that made the afternoon memorable. I can't possibly say this enough - whether a simple soup and salad or a meal of the caliber we had yesterday - it is the hospitality that matters most. If people feel welcomed, if they feel like family, if they feel essential to the gathering, it can only heighten the experience of the food and wine. As lunch event ended, Chef Beau came to our table and invited us on a tour of Table XII, the private dining room at Elements with a view onto the beautiful kitchen area (think: your own personal 'Kitchen Stadium'!) and the kitchen, itself. The spaces are breathtaking, with beautiful furniture, finishes, and place settings, and where the Chef's creative juices flow as he and his crew grant your culinary heart's desire. But what made the tour even that much better was the Chef himself - he made us feel like VIP's in every way.

Chef Beau MacMillan
We closed out the afternoon by enjoying a few more cocktails at the bar - thanks to Chelsey and Tyson - and we're still talking about how much we enjoyed Lunch and Learn a day later. So thank you, Chef MacMillan, you embody the spirit of Tabletop!

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