Guy’s Grocery Games, 98% Excited, 2% Scared or is it the other way around?

guy

Anyone else remember Michael Bay’s 1998 movie Armageddon starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson and several other stars?  The scene I am thinking of is when Oscar Choi, played by Owen Wilson, is getting strapped into the space shuttle and is describing how he feels.  

I applied for a spot on season two of Guy’s Grocery Games, the insanely cool cooking game show on the Food Network and happily got a call back.  If there are any folks who have never seen it it is pretty much Chopped mixed with a touch of insanity.  I almost crapped on myself when they did the Aisle Four game.  I think it was aisle four.  Whatever aisle number doesn’t matter.  What does is that you had to race to the candy aisle and cook a meal out of it.  Or the frigging bag switch? Only a madman with a twisted sense of humor does that to another human being. Owen Wilson correctly describes exactly how I feel on the very hopeful verge of getting onto that show.  “I got that excited scared feeling.  98% excited and 2% scared, or maybe it’s the other way around.”

I am going to represent the crazy anonymous folks that choose the restaurant business to carve out a living.  I suppose it was cooking or end up in some random padded cell to bounce off of in my straitjacket deep into my twilight years.  If I had to describe to my three year old son Beaumont what I do for a living it would simply be: “Daddy wears pajamas with a tall paper hat (lovingly refereed to as a Culinary Condom by Garrett Blackstock in the wildly popular BBC program ‘Chef’) experiencing moments of perfect calm punctuated by periods of unspeakable madness.  I race to get food cooked for 40 to 280 people depending on how many people walk in unannounced, barking out orders for an hour and half interlaced with obscenities and adolescent random comments about penises that would make Red Foxx blush, and perhaps legally classify me as having Tourette’s syndrome.  Sorry son, Daddy is a madman.”

Sorry to burst the bubble of those of you who think of Chefs as a serious bunch of artists and craftsmen wearing clinically white pristine Chef coats quietly contemplating each and every combination that goes on your plate. When I did my stage for one of the world’s greatest Chefs to grace the planet, Chef Joel Robuchon, I thought to myself now if there ever will be a serious kitchen this has got to be it.  By the end of the first service I saw all the same shenanigans I have attributed  to the lowly kitchens I have crewed (or maybe crude).  Oh we are a crazy bunch of culinary clowns, but damn I love it and wouldn’t do anything else!

I sent the casting agency my information followed by a short clip I filmed after a cocktail.  I suppose I should add part of my bio as a form of introduction to the 19 second clip that follows.  It also may explain my character a bit better and perhaps why my sister is still in therapy 51 years later.  “Chef François grew up in a very French household in Chicago.  His earliest attempts at cookery began with the filleting of his sister’s goldfish at age two and a braised rabbit dish made with his pet rabbits at age seven.  He eventually stopped cooking his pets and went to the highly esteemed New England Culinary Institute where he graduated top of his class in 1985.”  Do you think there is another profession anywhere in the world where you can write that you ate your pets and somehow it is perceived as a benefit?  I guess I was way ahead of the tail to snout foodie movement.  GEEZ LOUISE! Or as my French family might gasp “Mon Dieu.”

Gimme Sanctuary

sanctuary

Sanctuary

noun \ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē\

: a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter

: the protection that is provided by a safe place

: the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held

: the place where Beau MacMillan is a deity

About two weeks ago, I got this hair brained idea to get one last weekend before season begins at Figue Mediterranean and I will be too busy for anything except maybe nursing a Mai Tai next to my pool.  The restaurant world can be brutal and one needs a place of refuge where deities nourish your soul and stomach  I thought about a culinary tour of Los Angeles finest eateries or camping in the woods and sucking down a few choice bottles amidst legs of duck confit then it came to me…  go visit Chef Beau at the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, Arizona, even the name implies happiness.  We loaded our Jetta Sportwagen and headed through the desert to the Sanctuary.

The drive from Palm Springs is very easy and only took about four hours door to door, depending on how many playgrounds your three year old insists on stopping at.  We arrived at the Sanctuary and immediately felt the truly sincere and gracious welcome the entire staff gives.  I have been to many great resorts, hotels and inns in my life and sometimes have experienced staffs who are annoyed by your presence.  At the Sanctuary, they make you feel like your are a loved family member they haven’t seen in years.  Everyone from the valet to the check in attendant to the gentleman that shows you your room was beyond kind and helpful.

Sanctuary 01 Sanctuary 03We were given the Turquoise X Spa Room, a wonderful two room suite with a great balcony and many other incredible amenities.  Lisa took to the room like a fish to water.  We called room service and ordered two cocktails to quickly get us into the vacation mode. We were meeting Chef Beau MacMillan, Beau Mac, for a pizza party thrown at a friend’s house and I needed to shake the road off.

Sanctuary 05I have known Chef Beau for many years.  He actually started working with me several years ago at a small restaurant in Carver, Massachusetts called the Cranebrook Tea Room.  As a Chef you have many youngsters work for you and it is hard to keep track of all the people you meet.  I had forgotten about Beau till one day he called Claudia Springs Winery, where I was working in 2010, to track me down.  My boss, Bob Klindt, being the great boss he was, took Beau’s info and said he would pass it on.  Bob called my office and said some guy named Beau was looking for me.  Being cynical,  I quickly responded ‘did he say daddy or IRS or any other keywords that may help me remember why that name was familiar’.  Bob chuckled and had me call him.  It took two phone conversations before I remembered Beau fully who now had become a national celebrity and TV star.  Yes, 14 years of not owning a TV made me rather ignorant when it came to pop trivia.  We eventually hooked up and did a lunch and learn program at Elements, the Asian inspired restaurant at the Sanctuary and a few other events Beau was gracious enough to include me in. Sometimes being a Chef is like being a father, you take such a personal interest in those who learned the craft under your tutelage, they make you proud then they leave the nest to forge their own life and identity.  Over time, they call you either from a psychiatric ward after they’ve gone postal or when life is particularly good. Thankfully Beau called me because life had shined it’s lovelight on him and blessed him with a joyous career.   When I googled Beau and saw both the Chef and the man he became it made me super proud.  Anyone who knows Beau or is fortunate to cross his paths quickly realizes what a genuine and wonderful person he is and what an immensely talented Chef he has become.  The Sanctuary is far better off having Beau leading the culinary charge or as an employee told me this last trip  Elements is Beau.  He could not have been more correct.

ChefBeauMacMillan

We had a few hours to kill before the pizza extravaganza and tried fruitlessly to get our son Beaumont down.  Every time we got close he popped up.  Eventually we headed to the party and hoped for the best.  To our, and especially Beaumont’s delight, the house we went to was a child’s paradise with slides, pool and Thomas the train train set.  I am so embarrassed I did not remember everyone’s name because they all were so amazingly kind and wonderful.  We drank Champagne, downed a bottle of Beaumont’s wine.  In 2010, little Beau’s birth year, I made a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon with Bob Klindt to last Beau’s entire life and to have something to remember his Daddy by.

beaumontThe party was awesome.  Beau and I threw pies and I made some baked figs like we do at Figue.  I had a great time… thanks to all that were there.

Sanctuary 11 Sanctuary 12 Sanctuary 13 Sanctuary 14 Sanctuary 15At the end, or at least as long as little Beau let us stay before the inevitable meltdown, we watched Guy Fieri’s new Food Network show with some of the folks involved.  Here is my short shameless plug: make a food show about the son of a Chef who grows up cooking and his relationship with food – a kids cooking program.  I know most shows are reality based competitions and I don’t know crap about TV but my little son started his life eating Duck Confit with Truffles and helps cook whenever he can.  OK, plug over.  The other thing I feel compelled to mention is Guy Fieri’s twin works for me…

Figue July 2013 11

We drove back to the Sanctuary not the least bit hungry and thirsty but managed to do some damage at the Edge Bar. I wish I could say I took that picture below but I “borrowed” it from the Sanctuary’s photo collection online.

download (1)We indulged in a few cocktails before heading inside to eat.

Sanctuary 25We thought about eating at the newly renovated Jade Bar but decided upon sitting at a proper table.  It is not often we get to dine without our son.

Sanctuary 22 Sanctuary 28We enjoyed many fantastic dishes, shoo, they all were fantastic.  I apologize about the photo quality.  Normally I am a bit more anal about getting the shots right but somehow alcohol influenced mt skillset.

Sanctuary 30

Fire Roasted Oysters, Spinach, Lop Chung, Hijiki Aioli, or what is left of it.  This is one of the best dishes I will ever eat.  I am an oyster snob.  I want nothing more than an oyster and lemon, maybe.  I never eat cooked oysters.  HOLY MOLY!Sanctuary 31

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Shrimp Toast, roasted Scallop and Mandarin Teriyaki: a beautiful marriage of land and sea.  I order foie gras whenever I can because in California it is easier to buy Jamaican herbs than it is foie gras.Sanctuary 32

Octopus a la Plancha, pickled Mustard Root, Celery Hearts, Fingerlings and Smoked Paprika.  A great dish.  My only slam is now that at Figue we have a new way of cooking octopus it is hard to eat it any other way.  Beau’s was very good but our method is better.  Please do not take that as critical.  It is more like picking fly shit out of black pepper.Sanctuary 33

Artichoke Tart, local Goat Cheese, Preserved Lemon and Balsamic Chili glaze.  One word:  YUM!Sanctuary 34 Sanctuary 36

We ate the Char sui Pork Belly which was out of this world stellar yummo.  We were so stuffed I felt like that scene in Monty Python where a waiter (John Cleese) is trying to feed just one thin wafer mint to a guy who already has gorged himself on the food, see here.  Caution it is disgusting!Sanctuary 37We came back to our room to find Beaumont had fallen asleep sitting up…  Oh what a joyous and stupendous night.  Lisa and I thank Beau and his team at Elements and all the kind folks at the Sanctuary for giving us that safe haven for the weekend.  It was paradise.  I strongly urge any one of my three readers to venture to Arizona and enjoy Beau’s magic…  For reservations and more information please go to the Sanctuaries web site: http://www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com/index.html