Hot Chefs to Watch: Get to Know These Up-and-Coming Chefs - Part 2
In this series, we're introducing you to up-and-coming chefs from our luxury hotels who are known for their gourmet dishes and desserts, and who also have a knack for innovation, whether it's in the garden, kitchen, or banquet hall. This is part two in our series. You can read the first installment here.
In Los Cabos, Mexico, a chef uses a traditional under-the-earth oven to cook tender barbacoa, a dish large groups love. Near Scottsdale, an executive chef at a wellness resort and spa harvests herbs and greens from an on-site garden to craft his plant-rich meals. These are a couple of examples of how chefs throughout the ALHI portfolio are infusing their menus with dishes that have a true sense of place.In this installment of our up-and-coming chefs series, we're introducing four North American chefs who, even when cooking for large groups, are able to showcase regional culinary traditions by sourcing from local purveyors and using customary cooking techniques.
Here's a look at up-and-coming chefs worth watching:
Executive Chef Scott Winegard at CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa in Carefree, Arizona
Healthy, plant-rich dishes prepared with hyper-seasonal produce define the banquet menus at CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa. Business travelers here can start the day with, say, vegan chilaquiles crafted with a cilantro avocado dip, butternut queso and tofu scramble. For dinner, a robust menu might include wild mushrooms roasted in the hearth with creamy polenta or a sous vide cauliflower steak with herbed quinoa. While the dishes here aren't exclusively vegan or vegetarian, Chef Winegard's banquet menus are a case study in how vegetables can be prepared as delicious main dishes, proving there's more to plant-based meals than salads. He's shaped CIVANA's culinary program to be exciting, colorful, flavorful and inventive. This philosophy extends to how Winegard sources food for his menus. Not only is local produce fresher, but it also "has a better connection to the land you're a part of," he says. His culinary creations are prepared to complement the environment in which guests enjoy the food, which is in the desert, with pop-up dining experiences throughout the property. Southwest herbs and greens are grown on site in CIVANA's garden and regularly incorporated into dishes.
Executive Chef Nelly Buleje at Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Grand Geneva Resort and Spa's sprawling outdoor spaces allow Executive Chef Nelly Buleje to lead interactive culinary experiences for large groups, including live action stations for seafood boils, barbecues, pig roasts, and a smoking duck display. Chef Buleje works closely with Grand Geneva's meeting and event planners to tailor culinary experiences that meet the needs and interests of groups at the resort. Other popular requests include interactive culinary experiences such as chef-lead cooking classes at the resort's acclaimed restaurant, Geneva ChopHouse, as well as customized wine dinners, and even an elevated live-order burger experience. (If you get the chance to participate, be sure to get some of that famous Wisconsin cheddar melted on your burger). Chef Buleje and his team also offer pasta making classes at the resort's Ristorante Brissago and once converted the restaurant's kitchen into a line cafeteria with live cooking demonstrations. With a focus on local and sustainable ingredients, the chef partners with regional farmers and purveyors to create seasonal-inspired menus for the restaurant and banquet menus. Interestingly, Chef Buleje got his culinary career started by cooking room service orders and slicing prime rib at the Grand Geneva's weekend buffet. He then went on to travel the world and learn about regional cuisines in locales that ranged from the Philippines to Peru before taking the executive chef role at the resort.
Michelle Weaver, Executive Chef of Charleston Grill at Charleston Place, A Belmont Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina
Chef Michelle Weaver learned the ABCs of Southern cooking from her mother, who taught her you can cook anything in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and that veggies always taste better when you grow them in your own garden. Her formal training came from the New England Culinary Institute, and she honed her French cooking techniques while working with celebrated chefs in the South before taking the executive chef role at Charleston Place, A Belmond Hotel, Charleston. Her cooking philosophy? "Use what is in season. Make sure it's fresh. Don't over complicate it. Sprinkle it with love and call everyone to the table." As Weaver works with meeting planners, she likes to think about what would constitute a perfect event for the group. "For example, we had a group coming to the South for the first time looking for an immersive Southern experience," Weaver says. "We set up demonstrations featuring Southern food paired with storytellers and farmers from the region and great music. Of course, our signature crab cakes were a big hit."
Chef Weaver's menu presents dishes that blend the Lowcountry's bounty with inspiration from around the world including Asia, India, Italy, Spain and France. Her mother's recipe for Southern fried apple hand pie is a special treat guests love.
Chef de Cuisine Stuart Roger at SEARED by One&Only at One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico
One of the most popular event dishes at One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos is barbacoa, a traditional Mexican dish with meat that's slow-roasted to perfection using an ancient cooking technique, says Stuart Roger, Chef de Cuisine at SEARED by One&Only. The beef or lamb is cooked in a pit dug in the ground and covered with maguey leaves, a plant from the agave family. "We cook ours in an under earth oven that we installed exclusively for this style of cooking," says Roger. "The meat is very tender, and it's typically shredded or chopped before being served with lime in tortillas or alongside a bowl of consommé, a broth made with drippings from the meat." The culinary team at One&Only Palmilla meets with meeting and events planners early on in the planning process to tailor menus for groups. Every detail and nuance is thought out, from cocktail canapes, to break-out session treats, to the five-course dinners, Chef Roger says. The resort can also plan for living cooking demonstrations. Tequila partners can present rare and exclusive blends in a tequila masterclass and the property even has a VW van that's been made over into a mobile margarita bar. Under the leadership and direction of Chef Roger, SEARED has garnered awards like "Restaurant of the Year" and "Wine Selection of the Year" by the Los Cabos Culinary Awards. Roger, who has worked in some of Mexico's most celebrated kitchens, visits with local fishermen each morning to receive fresh fish, and then he heads to the resort's herb garden to pluck herbs for the day's cooking.