It's the end of an era. Chef Greg LaPrad -- the talented farm-to-table chef who made Quiessence a destination restaurant and kept it in the media spotlight for eight years -- plans to wrap up his eighth and last season at the restaurant on Saturday, June 15. Sister restaurant Morning Glory Cafe closes for the season Sunday, June 16.
This is sad news for those of us who consider Quiessence one of the best restaurants in town, a reputation LaPrad earned with considerable help from his close friend and executive chef Tony Andiario, who also will leave Quiessence at the end of this season. But if there's a silver lining here somewhere, it's that at least LaPrad isn't leaving the state.
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LaPrad plans to open a new restaurant in Sonoita (Southern Arizona wine country) by August, creating a "true destination restaurant" for visitors and locals alike. Taking over a restaurant space formerly occupied by Karen's Wine Country Cafe, he'll be doing what he's always done at Quiessence: keeping his menu local and seasonal, connecting with local farmers and now, staying in even closer touch with AZ winemakers to create events. His relationships with prominent winemakers such as Sam Pillsbury, Eric Glomski and Kent Callaghan have always been strong (how many wine dinners has Quiessence hosted?), but now he finds himself in a slx-degrees-of-separation situation, given that Callaghan's mom once ran the little cafe he's taking over in a matter of weeks. LaPrad also hopes to get more involved with Native Seeds Search, just as Tucson chef Janos Wilder has been for years.
As yet, he hasn't come up with a name. What he does know is that the new restaurant will move away from Quiessence's Italian inflection to reflect what LaPrad calls a "sense of place" as well as the history of the area. That means he'll be looking at Sonoita's ranching culture and Southern Arizona's Spanish influence when he creates his menu. "I want to give people a reason to drive down to wine country, make a day of it and then come in for a great meal," he says.
Meanwhile, it's not clear what Tony Andiario will do. He's sad to leave Quiessence, he says, but at the same time, he's ready to spread his wings. Given the freedom he enjoyed with LaPrad, he admits that it may be difficult to find a restaurant that allows for his penchant for constant menu changes. We can only hope someone is smart enough to pick him up and let him run with his own menu. This guy is a major talent and we can't afford to lose him.