^
Keep New Times Free
4

Chef Chris Smith Dishes on Maynard James Keenan’s New Restaurant in Cottonwood


For Chef Chris Smith, cooking in a couple of kitchens in an Arizona art colony and small town turned into a big opportunity. After eating at Asylum Restaurant in Jerome several times when Smith was chef there,


multi-platinum-selling musician turned Arizona winemaker Maynard James Keenan picked him to lead the culinary team at his new concept,

Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria

in Cottonwood. On the morning of the osteria’s opening on December 2, we caught up with Smith to talk about the pasta standouts on the Italian menu, what it’s like working for Keenan, and wine pairings.

What are some of your favorite pasta dishes on the menu?
The signature is the Merkin Mac and Cheese. And the cheese, it’s not like your regular Velveeta or Kraft or whatever. This one has heavy cream and mascarpone, white pepper. And the pasta is a prickly pear and wine – that’s what I put in the pasta, so the [pasta] is a pink-ish color. And another one I really like and that’s going well is just a regular, traditional gnocchi. In that one, I do a prosciutto and sage cream sauce.

Where are you sourcing your ingredients?
The meats and cheeses, right now, I’m importing those from Italy. I am trying to source local. I’m getting my hands on the prosciutto that’s going to be local, and produce is local — down in Phoenix, I’ll mess with Blue Sky Farms, McClendon's [Select] Farms, or Pinnacle Farms. We also have our own Merkin garden. We have our own greenhouse on one of our vineyards, and we’re adding two more greenhouses to another vineyard. So we’re growing our own stuff. We have Merkin orchard, as well, which produces plum, apricot, peaches, pomegranate, three kinds of figs, almonds, apples, all that stuff. The flour for the pasta that’s coming is Arizona-grown; the wheat is milled at Hayden Flour Mills.

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

What’s it like working with Maynard James Keenan?
He keeps me on my toes, and makes me better. Makes me better with every dish. He basically gave me free rein, so that’s what we did. I guess he trusts me.

He asked me what I needed, and we made it happen. The mixers I wanted, the pasta extruder I wanted, anything that I wanted. All the equipment … like I said, he gave me free rein and put things together.

Can people see the pasta being made in the kitchen from the dining room?
Yeah, it’s almost like a sushi bar. There are actually seats at the pasta bar. So someone’s making pasta there – they’re making the raw pasta, they’re not finishing the dishes. The main kitchen is upstairs. And downstairs, they produce the pastas, mix the bread [dough], all that type of stuff. And then behind where they’re making pasta is the walk-in, and it has a glass window, so you can see all the produce, you can see the meat hanging. It’s a pretty cool concept.

What food and wine pairings would you recommend at Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria?
All the dishes on the menu go specifically with the Merkin wine … maybe a rosé for a charcuterie board. For the bruschetta with the pesto, I like going with the malvasia bianca. That wine really pops with basil. The ragú, you go with something like the Tarzan red. Or if you just want to come and hang out, we have these bread baskets, and we make our own bread and preserves. You’re gonna have to come check it out.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.