This is part two of our interview with the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North Executive Chef Mel Mecinas. As the resort's head chef, he oversees a number of dining outlets, including the hotel's Southwestern steakhouse Talavera. On Monday, Mecinas talked about his culinary mentor chef Joachim Splichal, and today we're back for more of tales of his culinary adventures. The chef has also introduced a line of his own salsas, which he hopes to have on the shelves at AJ's Fine Foods stores by next month.
See also: Best View - 2013: Talavera
Cooking under one of Southern California's most famous celebrity chefs isn't the only notable experience on Mecinas' mind. There also are the times he cooked for one of the world's most loved chefs, Julia Child. While working at the Four Seasons Resort-The Biltmore Santa Barbara, Mecinas cooked for the chef, author, and television personality on multiple occasions and even created the second course for her 90th birthday celebration.
He also spent two weeks cross-training in Chicago for the hotel, during which time he worked with the late Charlie Trotter. And then there were the weeks he spent in Switzerland rubbing shoulders with some of Europe's top chefs during a weeklong summer culinary fest.
But despite his international travels and star-studded experiences, Mecinas remains humble, grounded and grateful.
"What I do everyday is a blessing," he says. "When you see a plate of food, my passion has to reflect in that too."
And when it comes to his food, Mecinas is an open book. "I don't hide what I do," he says, referring to the fact that he'll happily share his recipes with guests or whoever might bother to ask. "Creativity can't be copied," Mecinas says, which is why he doesn't mind sharing and stopped looking to cookbooks for his inspiration. These days he says he lets the ingredients themselves be his muse.
His most recent project has been bottling the salsas he uses at Talavera and the other resort dining outlets. It's been in the works for month and Mecinas says he took off a full month this summer to focus on this and a few other projects. Last month he finally received 20 cases of his salsa, which are currently available for purchase at the resort.
"We go through 15 gallons of this salsa a week," he says.
He hopes to have the product available at AJ's Fine Foods by next month.
When he's not busy running things at the resort, Mecinas keeps an eye on the Valley's growing dining scene. Three or four years ago he says chef Kevin Binkley, who's restaurant is located nearby in Cave Creek, was one of only chef's driving the development. These days he sees chefs like Cullen Campbell of Crudo as evidence of how far things have come.
"The more interesting concepts we put out there," Mecinas say. "The more it benefits all the chefs."
Though he's not looking to make changes anytime soon, Mecinas says he would like to own his own restaurant someday. And luckily for all he says he has no intentions of leaving Phoenix. For now he's happy at the Four Seasons, where he's serving return customers and an ever-increasing number of local diners.
"At the end of the day every chef has just one goal," he says. "To satisfy the guest."
What restaurant is next on your must-go list: The new T-Cooks at the Royal Palms.
Who do you consider your culinary mentor and what's the most important thing he/she taught you: Joachim Splichal, he taught me discipline and respect for the ingredients.
What was it like cooking for Julia Child: It was like cooking anyone else, I always put my heart and soul into my food.
In your opinion what's the ideal holiday gift for a chef: Bourbon, everyone needs a drink after a crazy day! For example, during Christmas I will cook for over 700 people, at the same time planning for New Year's Eve because Talavera will be sold out.
What's kept you in Scottsdale for so long?: The lifestyle, I don't have to deal with snow.
What are your thoughts on the Phoenix food scene: I think it is growing and changing dramatically, it is very exciting.
Do you want your sons to be chefs and do you think they will?: I would say no because your job consumes you and if you want to spend time with your family it is not the right career. That being said I think my youngest will want to become a chef, but he can decide that for himself after college.
What's your favorite winter ingredient and how would you use it: Truffles. I use them in risotto, gnocchi and anything else I can throw them in.
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What made you want to create a line of salsas: Well, the guests loved my salsa so much they encouraged me to bottle it and so I did. Now everyone can enjoy it.
What's next: Right now, I am just enjoying living my dream. I really just want to continue sharing my passion and creating experiences for the guests.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence 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