On Monday, we chatted with Dustin Christofolo, the new executive chef at Quiessence, about how he's prepared to take over the high-profile position at the end of the month. If you missed the first part of the interview you can read it here. Today, we're back to talk about a few new things you'll find at the restaurant this season including a picture-perfect edible garden, wood-fired brick oven, and a new wine program.
Christofolo graduated from culinary school in 2008, and his training included spending six months in Italy learning true Italian cooking -- which Christofolo will tell you is totally different from American-Italian technique. It was during this time, he says, that he began to develop the foundation for the Southwestern-Italian cuisine he'll be doing now. It should be a nice continuation of what LaPrad (who also studied in Italy) was doing before.
"What I got out of [culinary school] is to take what you want and make your own style," Christofolo says. "My style is pulling Southwest ingredients and putting my own flair on them with Italian-style technique."
But after coming home from school to Arizona, Christofolo says, he still didn't feel totally ready to jump into a kitchen.
"Once I got back, I was still kind of clueless," he says.
So he went to work at the Farm Kitchen, the Farm's casual lunch outlet. The experience helped him make a lot of connections with local food producers, but when people approached his mother about The House at Secret Garden, he jumped on board. He's been there ever since.
As for the menu at Quiessence, Christofolo says the things won't change too much, though he will be making a "few new deviations." He describes himself as a hands-on type of chef ("I put myself on the line every night," he says) who's not so much into the chef-ego thing.
Mostly he says the changes are coming by way of improvements to the property. For example the new "Maya's Foraged Garden" menu, which will feature products foraged and found by Maya Dailey of Maya's Farm. There's also a new edible garden with colorful dainty flowers that can be plucked and used on Quiessence's plates.
But for an all-out farm-to-table experience (or just to impress the pants off your date), there's the new Brick Oven Table, where two to four diners can sit next to the outdoor oven just off the restaurant's main patio. You'll get a special eight- or nine-course meal, and about halfway through the meal, you will be able to pick and cut selections from the garden that will be used in your final courses.
There also will be changes to the restaurant's wine program, which you can also thank Christofolo for. He's a wine connoisseur in addition to a chef and attended a wine program at Napa Valley's Culinary Institute of America.
"That was my first passion," he says.
So instead of a small wine menu, Christofolo has curated a wine list of 150 bottles, 120 of which will comes from the United States. The other 30 will be from all over the world. There will be a "strong wine program from Arizona," with many of the wines available by the glass.
He'll also be brining in a selection of $100-and-up bottles to satisfy the high-end clientele who he thinks will be looking for such things.
There will be a lot of eyes on the restaurant when it reopens at the end of the month (there isn't a firm date yet). And if you ask Christofolo whether he's feeling the pressure, he'll probably tell you no.
"It's been a little more than a summer break for us," he says, referring to the fact that he and his mother have hand their hands off this restaurant for so many years. "It's a big transition for us."
"I'm not going to say I haven't given The House at Secret Garden my all," he adds later. "But Quiessence is Quiessence."
Three kitchen skills everyone should know: Organization, efficiency, and multi-tasking.
One local ingredient you love and one ingredient you wish you could get locally: I love Rainbow Valley Farmers Cheese, and wish that I could get fresh seafood locally for my dishes.
Best thing you've ever eaten in Phoenix: Shiromi Carpaccio at Nobuo at Teeter House One thing most people don't understand about the restaurant business: The time and effort that goes into creating the patron experience. Or even the effort that goes into opening for service every night, for that matter.
If you could travel to any restaurant in the world, where would you go and why?: Slanted Door (San Francisco)
The best kitchen prank you've ever seen: I won't name the restaurant, but we scooped pork fat and covered it with blueberry compote. We then told the servers that it was a new dessert item on the menu. They were so excited to try that they all scooped a spoonful and ate before realizing.
The ideal dish for fall: Butternut Squash Risotto with Duck Confit. Also, Roasted Cauliflower and Huckleberry Sauce.
Food is like art . . .: because it inspires your creativity.
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What are your thoughts on doughnuts?: Doughnuts are great vessels for sauces and fillings. They are a blank canvas, which give you lots of options to be creative.
What's your ultimate goal?: Right now, my only goal is to create an experience at Quiessence that will top what customers have had while dining. After that, we will see.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay