Sedona: Chef Massimo de Francesca of SaltRock Kitchen
(note: as of February 2016, Chef Massimo has moved to another Kimpton property, with Chef Robert Hoffman the new executive chef)
I'm a huge fan of this gifted and hardworking Kimpton chef, who splits his time between Taggia in Scottsdale (see my interview here) and SaltRock Kitchen in Sedona. This also gives Executive Chef Massimo de Francesca an opportunity to develop a completely different menu from his modern Italian fare at Taggia. Recently, I was invited by Chef Massimo to experience the fantastic menu he's created at SaltRock Kitchen at the Kimpton Amara Resort & Spa. On a beautiful autumn afternoon, we met on the picturesque patio with its stunning Sedona vistas as Chef Massimo told me about his inspiration and some of his favorite dishes.
"When we launched this place 15 months ago, we wanted to introduce a Southwestern kind of California-inspired restaurant in this Sedona market. There is a lot of Mexican and Southwestern, but nothing that is a little bit more modern with a Californian flair. When I think of California, I think Mediterranean, I think Asian, I think of everything in between, and of course American-inspired, local ingredients. California cuisine is very healthy with a lot of fruit, avocado, and herbs, etc. Developing recipes and working with the team was like a huge canvas to throw my artwork at. Opening with a new team, new concept, and new menus is like a very big playground."
"These are some of my favorite dishes and they've been on the menu since day one. They are all number one sellers that we haven’t taken off because they're so popular."
"We take local farm eggs and steam them. We emulsify the yolk with chipotle aioli, some Dijon mustard and other spices, and then we pipe it back in. The glaze you see on top is pasilla powder with maple syrup reduction. Of course, being Canadian, I love my maple syrup, so I have to introduce that. For the bacon-onion marmalade, we reduce balsamic vinegar, red wine, red onions, and bacon. Think bacon and eggs with maple syrup; that’s how I got my inspiration. The grainy mustard on the bottom is a little tart and cuts through that sweetness. It has wonderful texture - the eggs are so soft and delicate and then you have the crunchy mustard and marmalade. It's not your typical deviled egg."
"Probably my favorite food in the world are mushrooms. There’s such a wide range and I love meaty mushrooms such as these King Oyster mushrooms. Super delicious, great texture. We peel them and submerge them under oil to confit. We clip local pines and rosemary to infuse the oil, poach them until they’re tender, strain them, char them on the grill, and sauté in lightly-smoked pine needle oil with shallot, garlic, and lemon. On the bottom is a savory Mexican chocolate sauce, a dark chocolate seasoned with paprika and chipotle and pasilla powder, which gives it a little sweetness and a little earthiness. Then we have a pinenut gremolata, of course, with my Italian background. We toast pinenuts and chop them up with bread crumbs, zest, herbs and garlic. So you have the soft and meaty mushrooms with the bitter chocolate sauce on the bottom and the herbs, finished with a little smoked sea salt on top. It's a really nice combination."
"The lamb tostadas have been a hit for us. They’ve been on the menu since the beginning and we can't take them off. Lamb belly is seared and roasted with Southwestern spices. We chill it, we press it, and then we cube it. To serve, we sauté with shallots and garlic and have a smoked tomato-based sauce that glazes it. It's layered on a crispy corn tortilla with goat cheese we smoke in-house, apple and tomatillo salsa, and a lime crema. I love seasoning with citrus."
"We start with a Southwestern-spiced marinade which is achiote-based. We emulsify annatto paste with orange, garlic, onion, and typical Southwestern spices like pasilla pepper and chipotle, paprika and let them marinate. They're warmed up with a bit of butter, shallots, garlic, lemon juice, and parsley. The lemon grits on the bottom are made with white grits, cream cheese, milk, and a little lemon. On top, we have a smoked poblano-tomatillo salsa verde with poblanos, onions, garlic, and jalapeño that we smoke in our pecan wood smoker in the back. To finish, we grate some fresh lemon and lime zest to garnish."
"For this dish, we marinate Southern California swordfish in fresh herbs, garlic, and onion, and then we char it on the grill and glaze it with citrus. It gets paired with a roasted pineapple, tomatillo, and basil purée, mango and black bean salsa, fresh jicama salad and whipped lime buttermilk."
"The achiote chicken is a signature item that’s just getting more popular with each day that passes. We have a really creamy jalapeño-cilantro risotto on the bottom. It's made with butter, parmesan cheese and white wine, and then we monter right at the end a jalapeño and cilantro pistou. The Frenched organic chicken breast on top is marinated in achiote and Southwestern spices and slow roasted and sliced. The piñon or pine nut sauce is like that creamy sauce you see sometimes with enchiladas. We reduce tequila, onion, garlic, cream, and lemon zest and glaze the chicken with that, and have toasted pine nuts and pomegranate on top. The textures are great on this one and people love this dish."
"I’ve kind of jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon and my wife is gluten-intolerant. This dessert is gluten-free. It's a good, old-school flourless chocolate torte and really decadent and rich. It's made with high-grade European chocolate and, again, Southwestern spices with pasilla and chipotle powder. I like using different chiles. One hits you right away, one lingers; they have different qualities. There is a whipped peanut butter on the bottom and then crunchy toasted peanuts and caramelized bananas. That’s a total 'me' dessert, that’s all me. A little bit of spice, chocolate, peanut butter, and banana. It’s wonderful."
"We’re not fancy. We’re not striving to be a five-diamond white tablecloth restaurant. We want to be casual, we want to be super friendly, super tasty, and super fun, and I think we’re executing that very well . I think our plates speak for themselves."
*UPDATE* Chef Massimo is no longer at Amara, but you can find him at another beautiful Kimptom property - the Seafire Resort + Spa in theCayman Islands.
For a link to the feature on the fantastic craft cocktails at SaltRock, visit: Sedona: Cocktails at SaltRock Kitchen with Ardi Dulaku
Visit this link for a feature on Amara Resort & Spa.