Nestled in the hills of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs resort offers an impressive view of the Phoenix area sprawled out below. At the top of the hill sits the resort's crown jewel, Different Pointe of View, a fine-dining restaurant led by executive chef Anthony DeMuro.
DeMuro's career started when he was 15. As a dishwasher at a now-defunct Italian restaurant, DeMuro's first break came when a cook didn't show up for a shift and he volunteered to fill the role.
The rest is history. DeMuro knew early on he wanted to get into the hotel business, and for the past 30 years, he's worked his way through the Hilton resorts in metro Phoenix and California. After serving as the chef of both the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak and Tapatio Cliffs resorts, DeMuro was promoted to executive chef at Tapatio Cliffs.
We sat down with DeMuro in his flagship restaurant to learn more about what inspires him, what it's like to cook in the world of hotels, and to find out his kitchen essentials.
What are your earliest memories of becoming interested in cooking?
When I was dishwashing, the cooks were always having a good time, and they just looked like they really enjoyed themselves. Through the years, I never worked for a real great chef, like the Christopher Grosses of the world. I always loved food, I loved plating food, I loved cooking food, so I took it upon myself to be creative and learn. I would do features and just have fun with food, pushing myself.
What about your family? Did you have a mother or grandmother who cooked for you when you were young?
Yeah, my mother was a great cook, my grandmother was just awesome. Eggplant Parmesan, any kind of pastas, lamb — she was very, very influential. They both were really good cooks.
Did you ever cook with them?
Oh, yeah, during holidays. My grandma, she’s passed, but she cooked holidays until she was 92 years old. One of my proudest moments was having my grandmother and grandfather come here after all the years of them cooking. It was a proud moment for them to come here and see what I’ve accomplished.
As someone who started out as a dishwasher and worked your way to the top, do you think the best way to get a job in a kitchen is to put in your time at the bottom of the ranks?
Yes. I did go to culinary school in there, too. I went to Scottsdale Community College, and I had five years at least of experience going into school, so I knew what I was getting into. I think that can be an issue today with some of these kids going to these schools, dropping $70,000 or $80,000 on a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts. It takes five, six years to make a decision whether you want to do this. It’s brutal work; it’s not easy work. A lot of these kids who come out of school who don’t have that experience going in get shell-shocked when they hit the real world.
You've said you always wanted to get into the hotel business, but you also have experience elsewhere. What is it like being the executive chef at a resort, and how is it different from working in an independent restaurant?
Well, you deal with a lot more here in a hotel. We have the restaurant, and we’re always dealing with group business. We do a lot of weddings and the catering end of stuff, too. But you know, restaurants . . . they’re a different world. It depends on who’s running the restaurant. There’re a lot of chefs who are great, awesome people, and those restaurants are really awesome to run. That’s a lot different from a family-owned business where they don’t have a lot of experience; they’re just taking grandma’s recipes and cooking with them. It’s just smaller, I guess. [Hotels are] a big world. It’s more monstrous than a small, independent restaurant. I run [Different Pointe of View] like it’s an independent restaurant. I try to, anyway. I think I do!
What do you think it takes to be a successful chef in this "monstrous world"?
I think it’s the path you lay out for yourself. Going back to the culinary school, I had a lot of experience going in, so I became a leader early on. I enjoyed that and ran with it. Going through the ranks with different chefs in the hotel business taught me how to make money, how to manage food cost. Being left alone, working nights . . . most chefs go home at night, and I’m here until 11 o’clock. I choose to work that because the restaurant’s open at night, for one, but that’s when the fun is. That’s where you get to do features and that kind of stuff. It pushed me to be creative. That was how I got to where I am, just pushing, pushing, pushing.
Where do you find your inspiration when you’re working on those creative dishes?
Seasons mostly. When one season starts, you put in a menu and by the end of it, you’re kind of done. It’s a repetitive thing. The hardest part of the business is re-creating. It’s challenging, it’s rewarding, but you’ve got to re-create every season, every menu. I’ve been here seven years and my goal is to never duplicate a dish that I’ve done. It’s tough, because you deal with a lot of the same ingredients. Chefs inspire you. I grew up with the Charlie Trotters, Thomas Kellers of the world, who really set the standard for this industry. When I was going through the ranks, those were the guys I gravitated to. I bought all their books. And that’s another thing: You learn a lot from books. You never stop learning, and if you do, it’s a danger zone.
Right now, there's a big emphasis on farm to table, seasonally available ingredients. Do you get much inspiration from that?
That’s been the thing for the last five, six years. But I think everything’s going toward — and it’s happening now — to go even more toward healthy, healthy, healthy. That’s where I’ve been for the last five years. When I try to create a menu, my first thought is color, flavor — I love colorful dishes — and healthy. All natural. That’s the goal with every menu. How do you take a sweet potato and make that thing taste unbelievably good? It’s technique. It’s how you roast it, how you caramelize the sugars in it, and if you do it properly, and execute it properly, it’s unbelievable. You’ve done nothing to it, you’ve just cooked it properly. That’s what I try to do when I write menus: take a solid food and not do anything to it that’s going to make it unhealthy for you.
No deep fryer you’re throwing things into regularly?
I do have a fryer, but I very seldom use it. I’ll do fries for the lounge, but I try to keep things extremely tasty, colorful, and healthy.
Thinking of trends in general, what are the most outlandish or irritating fads you’ve seen come and go?
I love bacon, but that trend . . . It was fun, but it got a little irritating after a while. Don’t get me wrong: I like bacon just like everybody else. Bacon ice creams, chocolate dipped, all that. It was a fun trend, but I kind of got sick of it quick.
What about all the dietary restrictions?
It’s all good; we’ll accommodate anyone. The gluten thing . . . It’s a little out of control, but if you have a serious gluten allergy, then great. It’s not a problem; we’ll accommodate you. That’s a tough question to answer. It gets a little wacky. Gluten’s good for you if you don’t overdo it.
In the past decade, we’ve seen chefs launched into celebrity status through reality shows that can be very dramatized. What do you wish people knew about the actual day to day lifestyle of a chef?
How hard the individual works. The way I look at it, any time anyone is celebrating anything, a chef is working. All your holidays, your weddings, anything people are celebrating, chefs have to work. When the Super Bowl was in town, I worked so much. I’m sure people know that, but I don’t know to what extent.
So chefs miss out on some of those celebrations?
Chefs miss out on a lot of family stuff. I know I do, because my wife’s off on the weekends and that’s my busiest time. She wants to go to a wedding, but I have a wedding of 200 here. I think in the past 15 years, I’ve been to one wedding with my wife. Two, actually. Our own, and then one other. That’s just one small example, but when you’re a chef, you’re working when people celebrate things. It’s something you get used to, and I have a very understanding wife.
You’re stuck on a desert island and you don’t know when you might get rescued. What three ingredients do you have to have with you?
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I have means to cook these things, right? I gotta have pasta . . . some form of alcohol [laughs], and I would figure out how to grow a garden.
What about three tools?
I need my knives. Gotta have fire to cook. And a cutting board.