Mel Mecinas Executive Chef Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North www.fourseasons.com/scottsdale/dining
This week, we're chatting with chef Meliton "Mel" Mecinas, executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon. As the resort's top chef, Mecinas oversees five kitchens and all the hotel's dining outlets including Talavera, the resort's upscale steakhouse, and the newly introduced Proof, a modern American canteen. Today, we learn about where the self-taught chef finds inspiration and don't forget to come back tomorrow when he tells us why he's always happy to share his recipes.
Mecinas' career began in 1986 when he got a job working with his father at a Chinese restaurant. He started at the absolute bottom of the kitchen hierarchy -- washing dishes - but after nine months was promoted to prep cook. He spent the next two years chopping lettuce before the opportunity of a lifetime came knocking on the door.
In 1989, a family friend tipped Mecinas and his three brothers about the soon-to-open Patina. No one knew then that the fine-dining French restaurant's founder and chef, Joachim Splichal, would go on to be named "Best California Chef" by the James Beard foundation or that the restaurant would go on to earn a Michelin star. All that Mecinas knew was that being a prep cook at Patina paid $5 an hour.
"So I said, 'Fifty cents more than I'm making? Okay, I'll take it.'"
He was the littlest "kid" in the kitchen, he says, and ended up doing odd jobs including driving the catering truck at times. More importantly, it was at Patina that Mecinas said he learned the basics of French culinary techniques. Splichal took the young Mecinas under his tutelage, at one point discouraging him from going to culinary school.
"He told me, 'Why waste all that money? If you really want to become a chef, just work harder.'"
And so he did, often showing up two to three hours early so he could finish prepping his own station before the other chefs arrived. That way he could help and observe the other chefs as they made stocks, roasted, baked, and even butchered meats.
"I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time," he says.
Mecinas left Patina Group in 1997 but brought his now-65-year-old mentor to the Fours Seasons for a special dinner in his honor last November.
"I am who I am because of him," Mecinas says.
When did you know you loved cooking?: I started working with my father when I was young, in 1987, but the more I got into the business, the more my passion grew and cooking became natural to me.
One thing most people don't know about you: When creating recipes, I have to be in the kitchen doing something, like chopping or sautéing. I love to be planning ahead as I am working.
How does your childhood influence your culinary style today?: I like to make food that is reminiscent of my childhood.
How would you describe the cuisine at Talavera?: Modern steakhouse, with a unique twist.
If there was one thing you would want people to know about the restaurant what would it be?: You don't have to be celebrating something special to dine with us. We have dishes you would like to eat three or four times a week. The menu is very approachable with a farm-to-table concept.
If you had to pick one dish you're most proud of, what would it be and why?: Chilean sea bass -- because I created the potato risotto 15 years ago and then utilizing my seafood wine concept, I turned the dish into a surf-and-turf concept. It has become one of the signature dishes that people return for.
What ingredient/dish are you totally over?: I don't have an ingredient or dish that I am over because I can always change or reuse to make something new and innovative. That is the beauty of cooking: You can always change what you have into something different.
What's your culinary guilty pleasure?: Asian ingredients, they inspire me, and I love to use them as much as possible.
What's your biggest inspiration for new menu items?: I get inspired by the food itself. I like to see what I can turn ordinary ingredients into.
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One local or national restaurant you've been impressed with in the past year: Binkley's, because [owner/chef Kevin Binkley] is constantly driving the culinary world, educating the local community, and we share customers.
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