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The Southwest’s Top Chefs Talk Food

Top chefs at premier Southwestern resorts share how they spice up meetings and events

By Shelby Deering

6.4.24 A dish by top chef Andrew Whiteside at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
A dish by Andrew Whiteside at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North in Arizona || Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North

When you eat at a resort restaurant, it can often feel as if you have been whisked away to another place entirely—where flavors you have never tasted before come to life within a relaxing resort atmosphere. This is an experience you can also create for attendees of your corporate and nonprofit meetings and events. 

But who’s to thank for creating these delicious journeys for your guests? The chef at the resort, who often has beginnings that stray far from their current locale. 

For instance, Andrew Whiteside, executive chef at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North first discovered a culinary inspiration within his family’s Italian culture, frequently harvesting fruits and vegetables with his grandmother in her garden. Giovanni Lanzante, executive chef at Vermejo, A Ted Turner Reserve, in Raton, New Mexico, gleaned cooking ideas from the five years he spent in Italy. Senthil Krishnamurthy, executive chef of Goldener Hirsch, Auberge Resorts Collection, in Park City, Utah, earned a degree in hotel management specializing in culinary arts in India before his tenure at the resort.

These varied backgrounds all led these three chefs to become some of the leading gastronomic experts found in the Southwest. Ahead, they will share the philosophies they have developed over the years and how they manage to cook for sizable meetings and events.

Culinary Philosophies

Like any seasoned professional, a chef develops their own set of ideologies that aids them in their work, and these are things that carry over to cooking for meetings and events. 

“My culinary philosophy is grounded in a reverence for fresh, seasonal ingredients and a commitment to honoring culinary traditions while embracing innovation,” Krishnamurthy shares. “I believe in the transformative power of food to evoke emotion, create memories, and foster connections. With a dedication to meticulous technique and an unwavering pursuit of excellence, I strive to craft dishes that not only delight the palate but also tell a story of culture, heritage, and creativity.”

In the spirit of fresh, seasonal ingredients, Lanzante believes it’s essential to know where all your food comes from. With that in mind, he also strives to treat guests as if they’re family and cook with his heart. He adheres to this mantra: “Never leave people hungry, but always leave them wanting more.” 

6.4.24 Whole Cooked Trout by Executive Chef Giovanni Lanzante at Vermeer, A Ted Turner Reserve
Executive Chef Giovanni Lanzante
at Vermejo, A Ted Turner Reserve, in Raton, New Mexico || Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserves

Whiteside also wants to know where food comes from and who grows it. He says, “Always know the face of the product.”

Cooking for Gatherings

Since these chefs might cook for small parties more frequently than extensive gatherings, they have each had to develop a special set of skills when it comes to serving scores of people all at the same time.

“The best thing is organization,” Whiteside emphasizes. “Always do the dish you can execute with your eyes closed.”

“Organization is key,” Lanzante agrees. “Write a plan, thinking through all prep, stove, oven, and plating time, then execute it. When you make time to be strategic, you will succeed.” 

Krishnamurthy says that with his extensive experience with large gatherings within his culture and hosting banquet events in the hospitality industry for two decades, he has a wealth of valuable insights and strategies at his disposal. 

“Drawing from my background, consider leveraging the following principles: adaptive problem-solving, attention to detail, and cultural sensitivity. By integrating these principles with my existing knowledge and expertise, I continue to excel in hosting and managing large gatherings with confidence and finesse.” 

Whiteside says there are three main things that jazz event attendees every time: presentation, attention to detail, and the freshest seasonal flavors on a dish.

Lanzante, whose claim to fame are his Lamb Lollipops that are “always applauded” during events, says layered flavors and seasonings that leave guests pondering the ingredients is his secret sauce, so to speak.

“I love nothing more than when a guest inquires about a dish in this way, providing their guesses as to the components—that’s when I know they have been immersed in the dining experience,” he adds.

The dish that’s consistently a crowd-pleaser among Krishnamurthy’s guests is his Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks. He says, “The combination of quality ingredients, skillful preparation, innovative flavors, beautiful presentation, genuine passion, and authenticity that consistently leaves our guests’ mouths watering always brings them back for more.”

Culinary Wisdom Outside Resorts

Lisa Dahl, executive chef and owner of Dahl Restaurant Group in Sedona, Arizona, doesn’t whip up creations at a resort but likes the fact that this sets her restaurants apart. “Since I’m in a resort town with many resorts and large groups, my restaurant group has become the place people want for their off-sites.” 

6.4.24 Plated delicacies from Lisa Dahl at Dahl Restaurant Group in Sedona, Arizona
Plated delicacies from Lisa Dahl at Dahl Restaurant Group in Sedona, Arizona || Courtesy of Dahl Restaurant Group

As a chef on the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” and on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” as well as a leading chef in the Southwest and beyond, Dahl has spent more than 25 years honing her craft. She says, “My culinary philosophy is to always offer the best ingredients. You can’t make clean, natural, vibrant, and wonderful dishes if you don’t source the highest quality ingredients categorically.” 

As a veteran of cooking for large gatherings, she prefers to “cook things that are her favorite menu items” and “stay with dishes that can be transported easily.”

“For example, I recently cooked a dish for the Devour Southwest Culinary event at the Arizona Botanical Gardens,” she says. “Although I had to transport our dish, which was a pasta with a chipotle cream sauce, roasted mushrooms, and grilled chicken, I had a system of making the right things in advance to hold the integrity of the dish. I served over 1,300 guests, and the first comment from the judge was, ‘How could the pasta taste like you just made this right here?’ This is called smart planning.” 

In addition to that smart planning, Dahl invites people to “eat with their eyes,” which is another of her culinary philosophies. “Presentation is very important to my success over all these years,” she says. “It’s the visuals that keep people raving and making them eager to eat the food.”