Brandon Gauthier cooked under Kevin Binkley for more than a decade. He bounced around from restaurant to restaurant, and opened Cafe Bink in Carefree four years ago. He was chef at Cafe Bink until February of this year, when he bought the restaurant from Binkley.
He operated Cafe Bink for a few more months, hesitant to change the concept mid-season. As the season drew to a close, he took a vacation and then reopened as Confluence Restaurant.
The restaurant, which looks about the same, is well named. The first definition Webster's gives for "confluence" is "a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering point."
Brandon loops together flavors from across the globe, boldly trotting from France to Spain to Asia to Italy, often cross-mixing colors on his flavor palate in a single dish. Ginger and Iberico ham. Star anise in chilled yellow watermelon soup. He defines his cooking at Confluence as modern American, like Cafe Bink but shooting for the next level.
Brandon brings in ingredients that he wasn't able to get at Cafe Bink's price point, which, for the dinner menu, was lower than Confluence's. Now, he can nab American snapper, wild halibut, and prime rib eye where he rolled with more plebeian cuts like hangar steak before, as well as luxury meats like Iberico shoulder.
"There's influences from all over the place," he says. "One of the reasons behind opening this restaurant was to have a good place to be comfortable ... to eat foie gras in shorts and a T-shirt."
There is an elegance, levity, and originality to the Confluence menu not all that common in the Valley.
Oysters come with spice and citrus, pickled ginger and burnt kombu. Roasted peaches are paired with cocoa, mint, and honey flavors. Foie gras unites strawberry, port, cashew, and edible flowers. A chilled bowl of cold yellow watermelon soup lives in bright fruity zones with apricots and pickled cherries. And these are just the starters.
Brandon's wife, Victoria Gauthier, runs the dining room. She also curates the wine list and, now, is in the midst of developing Confluence's cocktail program.
The unique food menu and clean, border-hopping flavors have ambition. That Brandon can fly on his own and at a higher altitude than he has in the recent past is promising. That he now has the bandwidth to do things like roll fettuccine and serve it with skate, or pair that ferociously porcine, watermelon-pink Iberico shoulder with charred onions and little blasts of ginger, makes this spot worth following.
Confluence Restaurant. 36889 North Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree; 480-488-9796.
Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.