Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale is a fabulous merging of original, sophisticated mid-century design, punched up with modern, eye popping, colorific flair. That's a perfect match for the food served at the hotel restaurant, Café Zuzu (6850 E. Main Street Scottsdale,480.248.2000) - as interpreted by Executive Chef Charles Wiley. This James Beard Award nominee is a regular fixture on local news and lifestyle shows. But wait - there's more. His watchful eye has overseen several major hotel and restaurant renovations, from the conversion of John Gardner's Tennis Ranch to the Sanctuary Resort, and The Ramada Inn renovation that returned Hotel Valley Ho to its atomic-era roots. His monthly Chef's Table program at Café Zuzu helps bring seasonal, local, and unique ingredients to Valley diners.
Chow Bella: The Valley Ho is beautiful; does it inspire your food? Charles Wiley: Aside from the architecture and interior design, this hotel is built on "good ground" and I can just feel it. I've been to some places and I don't feel it there. I feel like this was here for a reason. Like El Charro. Someone walked up and down Paradise Valley and found the perfect spot; it could be windy but El Charro is just calm. I'm inspired in that way about this property. Everyone is inspired by their surroundings. I'm inspired by our purveyors. Pat Duncan (from Duncan Farms) brings in beautiful things and I'm inspired to just go for it.
CB: What is your favorite thing on the menu? CW: I know it might sound almost cliché, because everyone has an ahi salad, but I think ours is special. It's full of roasted beets and radishes and a basil vinaigrette, sweet soy sauce and arugula.
CB: In my dream kitchen, I would have your giant orange espresso machine. CW: (laughter) Me, too. When we were designing the restaurant, I happened to see a picture in a magazine. There weren't any of them in the United States at the time. Now there are two. I took a picture to our coffee roaster and said "I want this," and they found it for us in Italy.
CB: Why did you start your Chef's Table dinners? CW: I was looking for something to do, and it was a bit of déjà vu from Sanctuary. When I was there, I had an idea to do a lunch and learn, and I'd do a cooking demo. It started with one or two people and today Beau (MacMillan, Elements Executive Chef) took it to another level with guests like Ming Tsai. We opened our doors in 2005, and we found that Monday nights were a little quiet. People traditionally associate Chef's Tables with being in the kitchen, but this is about being together. We do themes: truffle, soft shell crab, tomato fest, and then pair with esoteric wines. We'll be doing one this summer with beer, with 4 Peaks Brewery.
CB: I remember the Truffle Dinner. It was quite a scene, with you walking around with a huge truffle, showing everyone. CW: (laughter) That's right. It was a huge truffle.
CB: There's a lot of history at the Valley Ho. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio stayed here, if memory serves. If they were to eat here today, what would they order? CW: Back in those days, a restaurant was defined by their shrimp cocktails and steak. I think they'd have a steak, medium rare, with a nice crust. Maybe some potatoes au gratin. If Marilyn was feeling like she needed to fit into a special dress she'd order a chopped salad, but I'm sure she would customize it.
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CB: And to drink? CW: The perfect martini.
CB: Straight up? CW: Of course!
CB: Are you a big fan of any other places in town? CW: We love Welcome Diner.
CB: The one downtown, on Roosevelt? CW: Yes, absolutely. We named the employee café The Diner. There's even a picture of Welcome Diner on the wall.