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Food & Entertaining

Perfect Pairings: Sonoran Storytelling

Author: John Roark
Issue: February, 2018, Page 28
Photography by Rick Gayle

Adam Sheff, executive chef of Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen at the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa
Chef Adam Sheff presents an inspired coupling of authentic Arizona fare and French farmhouse cider

For executive chef Adam Sheff, moving his family from New York to Arizona was much more than a cross-country trek. It was also a journey that would introduce him to an entirely new palette of distinctive tastes and nuances of flavor. Sheff chose to head west in early 2016 to helm Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen, the signature restaurant at Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa. The eatery features a menu that subtly pays homage to the Southwest.

“I’ve discovered a lot about Arizona through its history and through the ingredients that are here,” says Sheff, who delights in incorporating elements that are native to the state into distinctive dishes that are true to this region but not overtly so. “Since coming here, I’ve done a lot of exploring, and that has influenced what I create. I don’t use Southwestern ingredients just for the sake of using them.”

The Southwest has rich culture and a beautiful soul. I enjoy cooking with a sense of this place.
—Adam Sheff,  executive chef
.For example, one of Sheff’s signature dishes is trout with romesco sauce, a Spanish blend of roasted peppers traditionally made with almonds, pine nuts or hazelnuts. In a nod to the Southwest, the chef uses locally sourced chilies and pecans. “Historically this state has a strong Spanish influence,” he says. “Chilies are also essential to our story, and pecans play a very important role as well. I was surprised when I learned that Arizona is the third-largest domestic producer of pecans.”

To immerse himself in Sonoran cuisine, the chef’s appetite for knowledge led him from internet research to history books to farmers markets, where he began meeting locals, getting to know them and visiting their farms. “There have been a lot of little moments of discovery along the way,” he says. “The Southwest has rich culture and a beautiful soul. I enjoy cooking with a sense of this place, creating foods that make you feel comfortable, as if they were meant to be here.”

A visit to Weft & Warp can be described as its own journey, an odyssey for the palate. The fare is honest and authentic, a fusion of comfort food and organic innovation. Flavors mingle in a dance of unconventional combinations—such as Sheff’s pairing of locally sourced quail with French farmhouse cider.

Bobwhite quail are a familiar sight for most Arizonans. The tiny birds can frequently be seen running instead of taking to the sky. “They’re able to fly, but they don’t seem to like to. Maybe they’re afraid of heights,” jokes Sheff. “It amazes me that a lot of people who live here have never eaten quail. The birds are indigenous to the area, and they are very tasty and surprisingly easy to prepare. They may be small, but they are super flavorful.”

In keeping with his ideology, Sheff integrates ingredients of the region in his honey-brined and smoked quail. “Brining the birds with honey, coriander and citrus; glazing with honey, chipotle pepper and cilantro; and then hot-smoking them gives them a flavor that belongs here,” he says.

The chef pairs the quail with a beverage from a world away: dry fermented cider from a third-generation apple farm in France’s Normandy region. The libation is crafted using a process known as spontaneous fermentation, which relies on “wild” yeast that exists in the air, instead of having yeast cultures added to it. “When these ciders were made, whatever existed at the farm where it was fermented is what you’re tasting,” says Sheff. “It’s a risky proposition because the flavor can be really powerful. You get something that is truly unique every time. This cider is a little bit funky, which is part of the fun. It’s got a power and depth to it—a wildness and an earthiness.”

Domestic hard ciders can be cloying, observes Sheff. “They are typically made with a standard yeast variety and basic filtered apple juice of commodity quality. This results in an overly sweet, one-note beverage. There are some American cider makers who use quality juice—and some even employ spontaneous fermentation—but these are not so easy to find.”

True to the chef’s word, the cider is a revelation. At first sip, one can easily envision the green pastures of the French countryside, smell the ripe apples and hear cows lowing in the distance.

“To me, there’s a fascinating interplay between the quail and the cider,” says Sheff. “Due to the strength of its flavor, the cider needs something that can stand up to it. Because it is smoked, the quail has a flavor profile that complements that nicely. It’s a combination that makes you feel like you’re tasting something that’s truly wild and natural.” 

As Sheff continues to discover his new home, culinary opportunities await. “This has been an amazing journey, and I’m still on it,” he says. “Before I came here, unfortunately, my impressions were not very well-formed. My understanding came from what is labeled ‘Southwestern’ cuisine in places I have lived. This is typically some type of Americanized version of fajitas, burritos and tacos—which in no way does justice to the colorful landscape, people and food of this region. I’m excited to see where the path takes me—to find new ingredients and tell new stories.”
 
HONEY-BRINED and SMOKED QUAIL

Serves 2

4 bobwhite quail
3 cups Honey Brine (see recipe below)
1/2 cup Honey-Chipotle Glaze (see recipe below)

Honey-Brined and Smoked Quail, coupled with French farmhouse cider

Wine - Manoir de Grandouet Cidre is dry-fermented at a third-generation apple farm in France’s Normandy region.
 
Place quail in a nonreactive container. Pour chilled honey brine over quail to cover. Soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain quail and rinse with cold water. Pat dry. Brush quail with honey-chipotle glaze. Cook immediately, or refrigerate uncovered for up to 24 hours for a smokier flavor.

Prepare smoker with soaked wood chips and heat to
250 degrees. Smoke quail for
20 minutes until slightly plump and skin is a burnished
golden-brown.

Note: If smoker is unavailable, roast quail in 425-degree oven for 10 minutes, or grill on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.



HONEY BRINE

3 cups water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
Peel of 2 oranges

Combine all ingredients in a pot.
Heat on medium-high and stir until salt and honey dissolve, approximately 5 minutes.
Chill until ready to use. Can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.



HONEY-CHIPOTLE GLAZE

1/2 cup honey
1 chipotle pepper, dried
1/4 bunch cilantro

Place ingredients in a blender. Blend on low until smooth. Can be refrigerated for up to one week.


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