MEET THE CHEF: Paul Steele of Flourish at CopperWynd Resort
CopperWynd Resort and Club is a Sonoran Desert oasis in Fountain Hills, Arizona boasting panoramic views from its scenic setting in the McDowell Mountains. It is here where you'll find the talents of Executive Chef Paul Steele and his wonderful menu at Flourish, the resort's beautiful signature restaurant.
Stepping into the striking lobby, your gaze is immediately drawn to the stunning view. Flourish, an airy, stylish space decorated in soothing grays and warm wood tones, takes full advantage of this sweeping scenery with a wall of windows that can be opened to encompass terrace dining for a seamless indoor-outdoor dining experience. Does the food live up to this mesmerizing view? It most certainly does.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Chef Steele's first step into the hustle and bustle of the restaurant scene was as a young dishwasher at Bobby Q's, a Texas barbecue spot. By the time he had moved on to a local country club kitchen, he knew he wanted to pursue a culinary career. "The chef there was super-talented, and there were two other chefs, one who went to culinary school in New York and the other to Scottsdale. I ended up applying to Scottsdale, got accepted, and that's when I moved out here in '99." While attending school, he worked at two of Arizona's best establishments - Tarbell's and T. Cook's at the Royal Palms. He later returned to Tarbell's as Head Chef and joined Mark Tarbell's team for his 2006 win on the Food Network competition Iron Chef America. In his decades-long career, this accomplished chef has also honed his experience at the Herbfarm in Seattle, Washington, and locally at Silverleaf Club, the Cafe at the Phoenix Public Market, and the Living Room, before bringing his culinary talents to Flourish in 2016.
As a food writer, one of the many perks is the opportunity to st down with gifted chefs, and there are some whom you feel especially honored to meet. Possesing genuine warmth, compassion, and culinary prowess, Paul Steele is such a chef. At Flourish, his menu puts a spotlight on pure, clean flavors and his primary tenet of "staying true to the ingredients." The menu changes seasonally, but you may find tuna tartare presenting as cubes of ahi graced with ginger, soy, sesame seeds, and bright citrus notes of Japanese yuzu, accentuated with avocado, micro arugula, Fresno chiles and watermelon radish, accompanied by crunchy taro chips. Creamy goat cheese fondue is heightened with the addition of smoked mozzarella and ricotta, a double-thick pork chop is rubbed with paprika and coriander before being smoked into tender juiciness, and crispy-skinned trout seasoned with Dijon mustard and fresh herbs sits on a bed of creamy poached potatoes and leeks nestled in a velvety sauce of sweet pureed carrots.
I had a chance to sit down with this soft-spoken gentleman on Flourish's picturesque patio and learn about his favorite restaurants, why he values humilty, and how important it is to have a healthy balance in work and personal life .
How would you describe your food philosophy? I don't like to over-complicate things. I like the food to taste like what it's supposed to. It always starts with a great product because then you don't have to do a lot to it. It's about making what feels right about the dish, not forcing ingredients into a dish just to make it sound great or make it look like something it's not; trying to be as pure as possible. That's what was instilled in me when I was learning, so to me I don't know any other way.
Do you have a favorite ingredient? I like to use fresh herbs. As much as I can and where I can. They're so fresh and bright. Learning how to use them and when to use them I think is really cool. They're talking about adding a garden here, maybe this summer.
Do you source locally? I try to as much as possible. Because of the the way things are grown out here, they taste really different. I think people are more into that craft style, whether it be cocktails or food. It makes them feel good about what they're eating. They know that it's local. It's such a big deal now. You see these commercials for 'food made with real food'. Shouldn't that have been like that the whole time? Why did we ever stray away from that?
Is the local movement a change you've seen since you've been in Arizona? Absolutely. When I first came here, I hadn't really been in touch with a lot of the local produce, though being at Tarbell's made that process go by quicker, meeting local farmers and stuff like that. The farmers markets have grown. There are so many now, but when I moved out here, it wasn't like that. In Seattle they have an awesome farm-to-table lifestyle. That idea is used more everywhere and becoming more common. People are into indigenous food and plants and things like that. It's much easier to get something when it's in season in your own state than to have it shipped in. It tastes much better because it's in season, and chances are it just came out of the ground a day ago.
What is your favorite aspect about working at Flourish? I can't say I have one specific thing. I think the location is awesome, it's a beautiful property. The staff that I get to work with is really fun. And I love having the freedom to create. I think for every chef out there, that's the driving force. Everybody wants to have their own menu where they get to make the ultimate decisions. I'm all about that too, but I don't make the menu all about me. It's really important to stay humble. I try to be super open-minded about food and listen to other people's ideas. I'm really big on constructive feedback. Not everyone likes the same flavor profile or taste, I get that. When you have waitstaff who are really good with wine, they can pick up flavor notes that I never even thought about, and that's a plus. Some restaurants have a mentality of front versus back of the house, but it shouldn't be that way. It's so much easier when everyone is on the same page. Then the people who come in and sit down will have the full dining experience.
It's never about me serving 200 people here on a Friday. It's about the five or six guys in the back that are working hard and getting their butts kicked, and then coming back the next day and doing it all over again. It's another sense of how I try to stay humble - it's about those who come through the doors because, without them, I'm just another cook.
Another reason I like working here is because we have a balance in schedule and life. I have a sous chef whose name is Thomas, and we'll rotate schedules so that I can have some morning shifts where I can get off and hang out with my daughters, and then he can have some morning shifts to hang out with his kids. Being in the restaurant industry, you have to work a lot and and you miss out on things and you'll never get that time back. Never. But there will be plenty more days to work 16 hours in the restaurant. So I try to give my employees time to do things, because I know that I need that in my life, so I imagine they do too. And when you're at work all the time, you get burnt out and then you're no good to anyone. You end up despising your job because you missed an anniversary or you missed a birthday. All that is really important to balance because you can't come into work focused if you're still upset about missing mom's 50th anniversary.
There are times I have to be at work and miss things, and that's going to happen. But I shouldn't miss all of them. And neither should anyone else. When you're burnt out, you're not creative. You're miserable at work, you're miserable to work with, and no one likes to work like that. And the effects just snowball into something else, so it's not easy. I try to give everyone the same opportunity to take time off. They say summer is a good time to take time off, but life doesn't just happen in the summer. To be honest, most things don't happen in the summer here because it's too dang hot. The best season is in October or April. It's also the time for weddings and outdoor events. You want to sit on a patio and drink a Bloody Mary when it's nice out. You have to give people time to do that stuff. And when they're happy, they work twice as hard for you. Cooking has been stereotyped as you're going to work 16 hours a day and eat while you're standing up and you're not going to see your wife and you're not going to see your kids, but that doesn't sound fun to me at all. I don't want to live that way and I don't want anyone else to live that way. If you're happy when you cook, the food tastes so much better.
That's fantastic, and so true. When you do dine out, what are some of your favorite restaurants? I love Asian food, especially Japanese cuisine. When I go out, I'm usually out with my daughters, so we'll go someplace familiar. Sushi Bei on Scottsdale Road is close to me. There's Sushi Roku at the W. Nobuo at Teeter House is still one of my favorites, and I really like Bourbon Steak. I also like Bianco's a lot; who doesn't?
Flourish is located at the Copperwynd Resort and Club and is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Brunch with a Bloody Mary Bar is served every Sunday 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. On Monday through Sunday, enjoy Happy Hour from 2 to 5 (menu here). Currently, local musician Marley Taylor plays Flourish every Tuesday, 4 to 6 pm. For reservations, call 480-333-1880 or visit opentable.com.