Dennis Delamater of The Post on Turning a Hotel Restaurant Into a Dining Destination
Chef Dennis Delamater of The Post.
Dennis Delamater Executive Chef The Post at Crowne Plaza Phoenix Airport www.crowneplazaphx.com
In January, after almost a year of renovations, the Crowne Plaza Phoenix Airport hotel unveiled a new name, look, and a dining outlet, The Post. The ambitious and expensive project aimed to turn the airport hotel into a more boutique destination -- complete with its own dining destination.
Chef Dennis Delamater, who joined the hotel in October 2013, is the man behind the restaurant's transformation.
"I've been a restaurant chef my whole life and I think that's really what they wanted," he says.
Delamater's been cooking in the Valley since 1987 and has experience in nearly every aspect of the business. For eight years he owned and cooked at The Citrus Cafe in Chandler, a fine dining French restaurant. He got out of the restaurant in 2007 and went on to help to open the Estate House, though at that time Delamater took a job in the front of the house as dining room manager. From there went into catering for several years and also spent time cooking at Franco's Trattoria.
Most recently, the chef was at Talking Stick Resort. But the job wasn't a long-term fit, Delamater says, more about getting his foot in the door of the hotel chef scene.
When the position at restaurant opened, Delamater jumped.
"It's taken all my years of experience," he says of the job.
The biggest challenge The Post faces right now is trying to attract a local dining crowd while still managing to appeal to the hotels main type of guest: tourists.
"I had to keep it a little mainstream," the chef concedes. "But they were willing to let me experiment."
The restaurant serves three meals a day with a different menu for each. Delamater says he tried to blend his classic French-style of cooking with the Southwestern influences that many out-of-towners crave. And that's while still trying to offer food that locals will want to come and try. The result is a menu that included some familiar faces, but also a few more intriguing gems. Think, Southwest Ceasar salad but also Grilled Quail and Waffle.
For those who knew and loved the chef when he was at The Citrus Cafe, there's good news. Delamater has carried over a few of the most popular offerings from the now defunct restaurant including the Pistachio Chicken and frozen version of a French dacquoise.
"I would just love to have locals coming in," Delamater says. "Like the good old days, when the nice place to go out was at the hotels."
Delamater's dessert features frozen layers of meringue and cream.
Describe the Post in five words: Fresh, creative, approachable, colorful and delicious.
What are the biggest problems you face as a chef of a restaurant in a hotel? I think the biggest problem for not only a hotel restaurant, but most restaurants in general, is finding experienced workers. Most people who want to cook these days go right into culinary school, graduate, and then demand a higher rate of pay. They have little hands-on experience yet.
How do you address them? Developing better training methods for those you hire. Every employer deals with the pay rate vs. experience scenario so the screening process becomes critical.
Three things you want people to understand about The Post: All of our menus, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, are designed to be different than traditional hotel fare. The Post -- and The Wren Bar -- are not destinations just for hotel guests but for everyone. We want to change the perception of what a hotel restaurant and bar can be. It's the perfect place to celebrate, wine and dine clients or co-workers, or to just enjoy a casual meal with your family.
What's the one dish you think best reflects your vision for the restaurant: The Green Chile Pork Shank. It's comfort food with a sophisticated touch. It has Southwestern flair, but prepared with European sensibilities.
Name one mentor in the kitchen and the biggest lesson he/she taught you: After being in a kitchen for 15 years I finally decided to go to culinary school. One factor in why I choose to go to the Art Institute of Phoenix is because of Master Chef Walter Leible who was on staff (now retired). He taught me a lot, but the one thing that stood out was the simplicity he emphasized in development, execution, and presentation of a dish. Too many ingredients can blur the flavors, and plate presentation should be sharp. Highlight the main ingredient, don't hide it.
Your favorite three ingredients to cook with: 1 .Shallots. They're a great alternative to onions for sauces, salads, etc. and have a little hint of garlic. 2. Any protein that holds up to slow cooking methods, typically cheaper cuts of meat. 3. Eggs - I think the egg is the most interesting and versatile ingredient. It can be an entrée, side dish, binder, the things it does for baking (breads and pastries) is amazing and a necessity.
The most over used ingredient: Sriracha. I love Bobby Flay's quote when he was talking about the new generation of culinary professionals coming up: "A Culinary degree, a bunch of tattoos and a bottle of Sriracha does not make you a Chef".
Your biggest inspiration in the kitchen: My mother. Both my parents were elementary school teachers. With four kids, my mother had to be very inventive when it came to preparing satisfying and healthy meals.
The name The Post plays off the theme of the hotel, nicknamed The Wren, after the state bird.
What's your favorite type of cuisine to cook? French is always my base when it comes to techniques, and I of course love French pastry. I like to work from that base and inject other influences like American, Cajun, Basque, Italian and Latin.
Five years ago I was...just ending a stint with the opening of the Estate House in Scottsdale. My mother had just passed away, and being in the middle of a recession, I was trying to figure out which way my career was going to go.
Your favorite place to dine in Phoenix: Anyplace new. With two children and work it's a treat to go out at all. So many great restaurants, so little time!
Your favorite place for cheap eats in Phoenix: There is a tiny sushi place at Bell Rd. and 43rd Ave. (Yen Sushi) that has a reverse happy hour after 8:00pm that my wife and I love.
Your biggest pet peeve when you're dining at a restaurant: Bad service or untrained staff. When a restaurant throws someone on the floor when they are obviously not ready to be there.
One national restaurant/chef you admire and why: Living Chef: Anthony Bourdain. He tells it like he sees it and doesn't take things too seriously as we see in his books. "Kitchen Confidential" rubbed some people in the food service industry the wrong way. I thought it was hysterical. Said he would not do anything on "The Food Network" because of the commercialism and sensationalism it has done to this industry and has stuck to it. In The Past: Julia Child. She did so much guiding Americans in the enjoyable art of cooking.
A trend you really like and why: Farm to table. Sustainable food that is raised and eaten within your community. The reasons are endless. Environmental is one of the biggest reasons. It promotes community and keeps the money local.
A trend you wish would go away and why: I don't know if it's a trend, but meritocracy. Hard one to explain. Generally average new restaurants seem to open each day, but because of the name attached to them, or their marketing know-how, these restaurants become over hyped.
The weirdest request you've ever gotten and did you do it? There was an instance that really made me scratch my head. A customer called to make a reservation and said that someone in the party was a vegetarian and asked if we could do something special for them. The day they were dining with us I went to the market to buy some special ingredients for their meal. When the evening was winding down I had realized that this meal was never ordered. I asked the waiter what had happen. He told me that the guest had a filet of beef because it sounded so good.
Your drink of choice and where you like to get it: Not a big drinker, but anything cold and, and anything enjoyed while hanging out on my back patio.
Your personal mantra: Life is too short to be doing something you don't like. I am also a believer in the "Golden Rule" treat others the way you want to be treated.
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