Che Ah Chi: Indigenous ingredients cultivate a distinctive seasonal menu

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, November 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

When people talk of local sourcing and sustainable farming, the discussion usually centers on modern methods. What about the indigenous produce of Arizona? Foods, such as prickly pear, have been found in the wild and utilized for their abundance for more than 1,000 years before conventional agriculture became an important industry in the state. Native American tribes of the Southwest established traditional dry farming techniques, growing corn in an arid setting with minimal water.

Native cuisine focuses on foods yielded from what, at first glance, often seems an unforgiving landscape. Beans, corn and squash are considered the “three sisters” and used in numerous flavorful dishes. The list also includes cholla buds; mesquite pods, which can be milled into flour; chiltepin peppers to fire up salsa, and more. The high desert landscape boasts a nutritious and distinct terrain that can’t be replicated.

Executive chef Jose Martinez at Enchantment Resort in Sedona agreed, “Che Ah Chi is our signature restaurant as far as food and service, but our use of Native American ingredients sets it apart. The history of the canyon and use of tribal, locally grown and wild produce contributes to the majority of our seasonal menus.” An example is the golden gazpacho, which incorporates amaranth, an ancient grain that pops when exposed to heat.

Che Ah Chi is the Apache name for Boynton Canyon, where the ruddy, adobe resort nestles among the red rocks. The 70-acre terraced property hosts 218 guest rooms with private decks providing panoramic views. Outdoor pursuits are as boundless as the renowned backdrop, while world class spa Mii Amo—meaning “the path forward”—offers life affirming recovery and healthy indulgence. Three dining options are located in the central clubhouse. View 180offers drinks and light fare, Tii Gavo serves casual Southwest recipes, and Che Ah Chi delivers sophisticated dining for breakfast and dinner with an award-wining wine list of uncommon options.

Natural and native elements pervade the clubhouse in rustic planking, stone, plastered walls and brick. A wall of windows invites a timeless and seamless experience with the outdoors.

Chef Jose evolved from a food-centered family, whether it was catering cakes or working in his father’s celebrated Crab House, in his native Puerto Rico. He completed education at two culinary schools, landing in Florida. Martinez gained invaluable experience in his decade at PGA National Resort and Spa, mentoring the executive chef, whom he followed to the Arizona Biltmore.

“That’s where my love for Arizona developed and the job broadened my managerial experience.”

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Haunted History

Connecting with Jerome’s Rowdy Past

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, October 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

As I climbed the steep, narrow, winding staircase of abandoned Mingus Union High School, a cool, but gentle, hand languidly brushed across my forehead. The hairs on my neck prickled, and my brows rose in wonder. I was not physically alone on the staircase, but neither was anyone within reach of me. The stairs brought me from the teachers’ dormitory to the main floor of the gymnasium where I stopped to consider what had just happened. The people ahead of me and behind continued upward without a care. Gooseflesh rose on my arms, as I recounted my ghostly encounter to the guide from Ghost Town Tours. Deadpan, he pointed out that the boys do love a pretty lady.

In the 1920s, the building was constructed to serve as Jerome’s new hospital, but it became the center for education for mining families. Today, the deserted property registers electromagnetic energy instead of students with activity spikes recorded in the boys’ shower and the whiff of cigarette smoke present in the girls’ area. My mind was open to things that defied explanation, but I wasn’t a ghost hunter.

A glance around present-day Jerome easily inspires imagination of the town it was during the mining boom of the early 20th century. Its history leaps from original buildings like the Jerome Grand Hotel, derelict mining sites or a worn, painted sign that reads House of Joy, reminiscent of a rampant prostitution business. With the season of spooks upon us, it’s easy to be carried off by ghostly tales. Still, there is a rich and ribald past, which is recorded or waiting to be explored on the zig-zagging streets of this precariously perched town. Does a residual of characters remain?

Mining History

Originally, the Verde Valley was farmed by the Hohokam people, but Jerome has long been a place of mining. Whether it was those early tribes in search of ore for pigments, the Spanish conquistadors seeking gold or the two veins of copper that earned Arizona its nickname, the Copper State, the site suggested shiny value.

In 1876, the first mining claims were staked on two mounds that later would be called Cleopatra Hill and Woodchute Mountain. The result of tectonic plates pushing an ancient, undersea volcanic caldera upwards revealed two of the wealthiest ore deposits ever found, worth more than $1 billion. The stakes were purchased a few years later and organized as the United Verde Copper Company and bankrolled by Eastern financiers, including Eugene Jerome. A small mining camp began on Cleopatra Hill and was dubbed Jerome to honor him. Eugene Jerome was a relative of Jennie Jerome, mother of Sir Winston Churchill.

A few years later, the mine closed and was purchased by William A. Clark, whose successes in Montana mining carried over to assemble a profitable business venture in Jerome. He enlarged the smelter and built a narrow gauge railway. The company expanded to become the leading copper producer in the Arizona Territory, extricating nearly 33 million tons of copper along with zinc, lead, silver and gold.

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Bandera Craft Tacos

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, October 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

As drinkers down tequila, Mexico’s raises production, which is expected to reach 290 million liters this year. Agave syrup and a newfound embrace of mescal—on par with world-class scotch or cognac—have upped the demand for agave overall. This is a boon, but it is at odds with an artisanal product that takes long years to cultivate.

The demand is global and labor intensive legacy farming strains to respond. Outside corporate agronomics enters the market, disrupting village practices. Fast cash tempts farmers, too. Some harvest plants early and others overharvest and risk ongoing pollination by the long-nosed bat, while cloned plant farms are susceptible to disease. All of these unsustainable practices threaten a fragile ecosystem and the trade itself.

Is there an agave crisis? Organizations, like the Tequila Interchange Project, believe so and advocate the preservation of ecological, traditional and quality practices in the agave distilled spirits industry.

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Coppa Café

European flavor and flair meld with ingredients from home

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, September 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

As we travel, we taste and retain sensations that are activated by similar smells, sounds or sights. The scent of orange blossoms transports us to a stroll on the labyrinth streets of Seville’s Barrio Santa Cruz, or the delicate crunch of a macaron spread with pistachio ganache places us in Paris at Ladurée once more.

Culinary culture is an intricate and integrated part of travel, but marking the miles isn’t necessary to gather such sensual awareness. Leading chefs build a practiced foundation of globally seasoned skills to appeal to the hungering traveler in all of us.

Basic flavor profiles include Mediterranean, Latin American and Asian. Within these regions, sub-profiles exist, driven by climate, agriculture and lifestyle. For example, the Mediterranean pantries of Spain, France, Greece, Egypt and more consist of similar products, but the cooking methods can differ. Further, the fundamental flavor combination of olive oil and garlic ranges from French aioli to Italian pesto and Tunisian harissa. Oh, the range of recipes they reap.

Brian Konefal, owner and chef of Coppa Cafe in Flagstaff, has built an engaged following by introducing guests to global menus. “The idea is to visit a restaurant and taste dishes from abroad without having to travel.”

That said, Konefal has traveled to gather practical knowledge, history and culture with a hands-on year in Barcelona. “The moments of food in a place—freshly plucked or locally cured—the nostalgia of terroir is important, and then, the practice of craft steps up.”

The chef employs European techniques and care, offering such standards as steak frites, while changing up most dishes routinely. Wife Paola Fioravanti advised him, “Remember the first time you ate something. Introduce foods that way and educate others.” Previously the pastry chef, she handles the financial aspects and menu modifications at Coppa.

Coppa Cafe presents as a Euro-bistro and pastry case in colors of ochre and cream with mismatched tables and chairs under a coffered ceiling. Art with whimsical touches complete the airy esthetics.

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Sweet Joy! Cone Company Turns 100

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

In a recent drive from Texas to Arizona, billboards along Interstate 10 West beckoned my husband and I to explore “The Thing?” roadside curiosity. As it turned out, the best part of our stop at the travel center was ordering ice cream from Dairy Queen.

The creamy treat in an edible handhold is quintessential summer. One can lick, lick, lick away, and then, consume what remains. The simple cone is easily taken for granted, but after touring the Joy Cone factory in Flagstaff, I knew exactly from where the flaky cup in my hand had been shaped, baked, packaged and shipped.

Joy Cone began as a family business in 1918. Lebanese immigrant George Albert and some of his relatives bought cone-making equipment to found the George & Thomas Cone Company. The George family, along with Joy Cone employees, continues to own and operate the business under an employee stock ownership plan.

History of the Cone

Although ice cream cones were sold by street vendors in New York in the 1890s, they achieved popularity in 1904 with its introduction at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The stories are many, but the according to the International Dairy Foods Association, Syrian immigrant Ernest A. Hamwi, is the inventor of the conventional ice cream cone. Hamwi, a pastry vendor, was selling “zalabia,” a crisp, sugary waffle, near the many rows of ice cream hawkers at the fair. He rolled the waffle into a cone, handed it to be filled with ice cream, and the rest is sweet history.

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Trail Crest Brewing

An Ideal Spot for Lingering

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

Life is crowded with the priorities of work and home, and they often keeps us frantically rushing from one to the other. But in the best world—and to the benefit of those on either end—we could use a buffer zone. A place to gather, complain or celebrate, and crucially, feel connected. Michael Hickey, a community development consultant, called such community hangouts “third spaces.” He discovered that nine times out of ten, it’s a bar. Call it a tavern, pub, or micro-brewery, but it maintains eternal essentials:  taps, stools and an amiable air.

In an article titled, In Praise of (Loud, Stinky) Bars, Hickey wrote, “The vaunted ‘third space’ isn’t home, and isn’t work—it’s more like the living room of society at large. It’s a place where … these two other spheres intersect.” In a nutshell, this is the aim of Trail Crest Brewing Company, a recent addition to Flagstaff’s suds scene.

Its sunny space boasts a bank of roll-up doors to integrate drinkers with our San Francisco Peaks view. Embodying that pause for a panorama—Trail Crest is an ideal spot for lingering. Big booths and picnic tables with a snaking, 30-seat concrete bar and rough-hewn kick area beneath keep it casual. A hay and charcoal color scheme, canvas photography of landmark surroundings and a stone fireplace add warmth to the welcome.

Owners Joel Gat and wife Turtle Wong create classic reasons to come around, such as Wednesday’s trivia night gathering of Geeks Who Drink. The owners are also fans of Ultimate Fighting Championship, so some of the nearly 20 television screens play the matches, but Gat is too busy these days to watch the mixed martial arts.

Trail Crest’s first broad menu narrowed to crowd pleasers with an eye on quality. Antibiotic and hormone-free proteins are sourced from Sterling Food Service for fresh, not frozen, products and beef ground daily. “We stay as local as we’re able,” said Gat.

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Destination Dining

Orchard Canyon on Oak Creek Restaurant

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, July 2018

Written by Gail Collins

Ding, ding! The bell clanged brightly seven times. Sitting near the resort’s fireplace, guests clinked cocktail glasses and smiled, while four ladies playing dominoes at a table outside set down their tiles and looked toward the lodge. Beyond them, the gentle splash of Oak Creek offered a refreshing backdrop. Earlier, the flowers—irises, coreopses, lilies and poppies—were bathed in golden light as the canyon walls burned with the sun’s last fiery rays. In this respite between afternoon tea and drinks before dinner, time had hung complacent. Now, the bell summoned all from their cabins or from a stroll through the apple grove to enjoy a spectacular four-course meal at Orchard Canyon on Oak Creek Restaurant.

Folks ambled toward the century-old lodge—originally a miner’s retreat—bearing a stone and log façade. Windows glowed warmly and carefree conversation spilled across an expansive lawn. Upon entering the restaurant, the tang of earth and woods were exchanged for the rich scent of garlic and roast meat, drawing diners to tables where friendships would soon bloom.

Maitre d’Hotel Michael Stober arranges the nightly seating.

“Orchard Canyon creates a European dining experience, where strangers gather at the table, slow down and indulge,” he said. “They share names, then laughs, and often, phone numbers. It’s a luxury of time that resonates with our guests.”

The stone fireplace soars as the dining room’s centerpiece. Rough wood braces and paneling rekindle rustic beginnings. Pierced tin chandelier shades and Tiffany lamps complete the enduring effect. The Todds built the property in 1902 before Gary and Mary Garland cultivated the land as a resort for nearly five decades. Their name remained with the business for two transition years before Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge rebranded as Orchard Canyon on Oak Creek in 2017. Preserving the cherished landmark and its beautiful food was paramount. It succeeded; USA Today listed Orchard Canyon as a Top 10 Best Restaurant.

Seventeen bungalows are scattered over 10 lush acres, luring guests to the tranquil setting for many reasons. Some marry there, and others return regularly to celebrate the date. Dr. Rog Jenkins and his wife Dottie came from Prescott to mark 36 years of marriage as they have for a dozen previous anniversaries.

After hiking Sedona or slipping down Slide Rock, Orchard Canyon gathers guests at 4:00 p.m. for afternoon tea.

“It’s a chance for the back of the house to get creative,” Stober said. “Regulars take the opportunity to check out the evening’s imaginative menu.”

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Mormon Lake Lodge Steakhouse

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, June 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

When Mormon Lake Lodge invited the families of local ranchers and loggers to enjoy a steak and some lively music on a Saturday night, the owners likely never dreamed of its lasting impact. Originally dubbed Tombler’s Lodge in 1924, the name later changed to honor Mormon dairy farmers, who settled the area in the 1870s. The rustic outpost was remote enough to embrace local, calloused hands, yet enticing enough to draw guests from Flagstaff, and perhaps, further afield. The lodge still serves all of those purposes. The loyalty of rural residents remains strong and the pull for traditional steak, cooked over an open fire, lures travelers from Phoenix. Executive chef Dylan Gold, who plays with fire at the steakhouse, summed it up best, “Mormon Lake Lodge is a time capsule for the area.”

Mormon Lake Lodge has long been a statewide gathering point for rodeo events. In fact, the world’s largest jackpot team roping contest, is held there annually. Such devotion is longstanding and the reason the lodge is literally standing today. During the July 4th weekend events in 1974, a faulty heater caused a fire that burnt the lodge to the ground. True to the grit and determination it takes to rope and ride, the cowboys vowed to rebuild before the next event, Labor Day weekend. Volunteer labor coordinated and executed the timely construction project, and as protection, ranchers burned their brands into the walls. “People regularly come in and search for their family’s brand,” Chef Dylan said.

One thing survived the blaze—The Pit. As one of the state’s last open-pit barbecues, its name is hung alongside a pair of longhorns high above its leaping flames. The Pit produces grilled steak, chicken and ribs for 500 guests over busy holiday weekends. Mesquite chips lend the local smoke to meat that needs little else as far as seasoning. “We don’t muddy the quality flavor,” Dylan said. “Simplicity built the restaurant’s fame, and that means doing steak really well.”  Continue reading “SPIRIT OF THE OLD WEST”

Old School to Inventive

Jitters Lunchbox satisfies with wholesome meals

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, May 2018

Written by Gail Collins

Life can feel too busy to stop and eat a wholesome lunch. That’s bologna! In fact, stopping to eat a bologna sandwich can improve the rest of the day. A midday meal creates better mental and physical health. Pushing back from tasks with a change of venue is a necessary, nourishing break—the chance both to de-stress and raise blood sugar.

Stress steps up the flow of cortisol, which can lead to fat accumulation if elevated for long periods. This same function occurs from the physical stress of going long periods without eating. So, don’t even think about skipping lunch on a daily basis for weight control. Consistent fuel keeps the metabolism active.

Lunch re-energizes us and is especially important for children, who need calories to power through until dinner. Nutritionists recommend combining complex carbohydrates with lean protein for a concentrated, long-lasting burn. Lean turkey on wholegrain bread, cottage cheese with fruit or beef and vegetable soup with wild rice are great choices.

Jitters Lunchbox has been satisfying Flagstaff’s needs for flavor and fuel for decades.

Owners Sharlene and Reggie Fouser first opened Jitters Gourmet Coffee and Café on the east side in 1995 serving, healthy food, retail teas, beans and coffees. In 2000, they also launched Confetti’s Gifts and Party next door, but later, decided to operate only the party store.

“We missed feeding folks though; our customers were our friends,” Sharlene said.

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Barbecue & Beyond

Bigfoot makes a might mark in catering

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, April 2018

Written by Gail Collins

There are many reasons to hire a caterer for an event. For personal or professional gatherings, the benefits of leaving the prep to experts are as numerous as the guests. And the bottom line:  Caterers work hard to produce an effortless event, so hosts and guests can simply enjoy it.

The first step is hiring the right caterer, so pick up the promotional cards of creative crews at successful parties. Food is the overall factor, and the type of gathering determines the method and measure. If it’s a boxed lunch, a couple of options work well. For a cocktail a party, plan on 10 to 15 appetizers per person. A sit-down dinner requires more staffing, but people eat less than at buffets, where lines develop and stations require constant attention.

Defining a party timeline keeps it lively and curbs costs. Consider a cocktail party with staffed stations for building tacos or beef sliders to circulate guests. Cut bar bills by showcasing a specialty drink and use one glass for all beverages to reduce rentals. Skip the filet mignon and focus on trends, like ethnic stews or braised meats. In the end, a capable caterer can make your event unique, memorable and affordable.

Bigfoot BBQ earned a reliable reputation with Kim Duncan of Kim Duncan Designs for their fresh take and no boundaries approach to catering. Despite their legendary smoked meat, “We had the courage and confidence to branch out,” said J. Carnes, who partnered with Bigfoot in 2008, and now, concentrates on catering. A mac ‘n cheese bar, baked potato bar and calabacitas enchiladas offered unexpected options at a wedding reception for a vegetarian family.

The rustic joint in the basement of Old Town Shops celebrated 15 years in 2017 and finds its strength in a partnership that also includes Colby Ramsey, kitchen operations manager, and John Van Landingham, the business guru. In a setting of reclaimed barn wood, checked tablecloths and downhome charm, Bigfoot has flourished. With South Carolina and Kansas style barbecue backgrounds, diners have it all—rubbed, sauced, pulled or sliced.

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