When James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross welcomed us into his home kitchen, we were handed a mug of hot coffee and instantly felt at ease. Gross, chef and owner of Christopher's and Crush Lounge, is no stranger to hospitality and has designed his home to receive and entertain a lengthy list of who's who in the culinary world. Don't get him started on the tales of his house parties — there are unending stories of refined fundraisers and party-till-dawn chef ragers. And Gross seems equally proud of both.
Gross' large house is nestled in an out-of-the-way neighborhood in Paradise Valley, offering stunning views of Camelback Mountain from the sprawling backyard. Unsurprisingly, the kitchen occupies prime real estate in the home, with an arched window that offers uninhibited views of the backyard bar, pool area, guest house, and grassy lawns. When the window is open, unfettered light pours into the space, making the dark wood and navy kitchen accents sing with color. A green marble table, flanked by two rust-colored wingback chairs and lined with wooden benches sits beneath four chandeliers. A sign reading "A spoiled rotten golden retriever lives here" hangs from a wine cabinet.
Designed by Wendy Black Rodgers, the kitchen carries over the refined French sophistication found in Christopher's and Crush Lounge's French cuisine.
While taking a quick tour around the home, it becomes apparent that our kitchen tour is really more of a kitchens tour. He's hosted 400 people at a time, he says, including an Alzheimer's fundraiser dinner with famed cookbook writer Paula Wolfert. The dinner started with cocktails on the upstairs terrace of the guest house, Gross says, from which some local chefs have done backflips into the pool during parties of a different sort.
The guest house itself has a large patio decorated with plush lounges and a 14-seat dining table. A gas grill is set into the opposite wall, and judging by Gross' descriptions of his many fêtes, we're certain it's rarely (if ever) used for simple hamburgers and hot dogs. Several years ago, Gross hosted the after-party for the Flavors of Phoenix event, during which chefs played "burgundy pong," a version of beer pong in which beer is exchanged for fine wine, and red solo cups are swapped for oversize wine glasses. Gross recounts: "[Chef] Kevin Binkley dropped a huge burgundy glass and said, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm so sorry.'" In response, Gross' girlfriend, Jamie Hormel, threw a glass down, too.
Moving through Gross' backyard, we're introduced to several other dining areas, including a bar with yet another gas grill, and a more simple patio table set beneath draped bistro lights. Gross says he's watched the sun rise after a few bottles of wine with friends from that table, and he seems to get lost in the memory of a night well spent. He walks us through the rest of the yard, featuring a lemon tree sagging under the weight of its fruit and a small herb garden with items he says he sometimes takes with him to work. During one of his benefit dinners, Gross says, guests entered through the garden, where they were greeted with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails from Crudo mixologist Micah Olson.
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Past the tennis courts and through the exercise room, Gross shows us several more culinary outposts in his home: A wine cellar tucked beneath the home gym, an art studio with his massive 1997 Robert Mondavi Award of Excellence portrait hung sideways on the wall ("It would look pretentious hanging on the wall of the restaurant"), a wet bar in the walk-in closet, and his 1995 James Beard Award sitting on his nightstand. The house is full of surprises, nearly all of them of the food-related, save for Gross' own artwork, which is hung at various places in the house. His cookbook collection is larger than most people's home libraries, and an entire shelf is devoted to the ones Gross has been featured in himself.
Gross says he doesn't cook in the house much, but when he does, it's usually a pot au feu. His favorite feature in the kitchen is the Thermador induction cooktop installed on the counter top. As he demonstrates the speed with which a pot of water will boil set atop a towel that won't catch flame, he jokes that you can cook breakfast and do your ironing at the same time. However, Gross confesses that Hormel and her mother do most of the cooking, usually in the form of Monday dinners or elaborate holiday meals.
Two massive pantries complete the main kitchen, one for cookware and one for food items. The sous vide is in the former, he says, and spices we've never heard of are in the latter. The pantries are certainly larger than some New York City bedrooms and full of treasures Gross has collected throughout his long career.
And if the numerous outdoor tables, bars, lounges, and the kitchen table weren't enough seating for the house, an opulent dining room remains, appointed beautifully enough to make a Restoration Hardware showroom jealous. Twelve cerulean, tall-backed chairs ring the table, while a black Gothic-chic chandelier hangs from the ceiling. A hutch at the far end of the room is exclusively reserved for candles, which Hormel places around the room during dinner parties. After the long tour through Gross' house and kitchens, we're left wondering: Where's our invite to the next party?