I saw the announcement for Late Lunch & Learn and I almost squealed with delight. Before COVID, one of my favorite spots to sip happy hour cocktails and watch the sunset was from jade bar at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa. My husband and I frequently popped in there for a glass of wine, a hand-crafted cocktail, and fresh bites under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Beau MacMillan. I've enjoyed a couple of great meals and one of my favorite offerings pre-COVID was the Lunch & Learn series.
I was thrilled recently to discover that Chef Beau Mac, with the collaborative talents of Chef de Cuisine Samantha Sanz and Bar chef Christiaan Röllich, has resurrected the Lunch & Learn series. This time, they introduced the Late Lunch & Learn. I attended the first event, Meet Me in Mexico, that paired tequila with the flavors of Mexico.
While the themes change and they plan different events throughout the year, I recommend you check the website and book a future event to experience what I felt was a rebirth at Sanctuary On Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa. Here are highlights of my Late Lunch & Learn with a couple of the recipes courtesy of the chefs.
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Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa
The location of the Late Lunch & Learn lends itself to wow moments. The resort covers 53 acres tucked against Camelback Mountain. It is definitely one of the top foodie resorts in Arizona. The resort feels as if you are away from the world, but the Paradise Valley location is just about 8 miles north of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. I usually take a rideshare so I can enjoy the handcrafted cocktails and amazing wine pairings—and can sit back and admire the scenery.
The Lunch & Learn series has always been about great food, paired with great cocktails, featuring live music, and a demonstration from a host chef. The menu is different for each session and there are always plenty of laughs and good times. I liked the idea that this summer's series, which continues through August, features the new Chef de Cuisine and Bar Chef. I love the Late Lunch & Learn concept, because it's the ideal setting to watch the sunset—or, in our case, to watch a monsoon storm sweep across the Valley.
Introducing the Chefs
I have had the good fortune of eating food prepared by Chef Samantha Sanz several times in the past. This brilliant young chef has a way with food and flavors that always leaves me with some wow moments. In all of the years I've traveled and dined around the world, there are a handful of meals that stand out. One of those was the paella Chef Sam prepared for me using her grandmother's recipe. You can experience that at the Fiesta de Sangria Late Lunch & Learn on August 28. I enjoyed listening to the easy banter between Chef Beau and Chef Sam, and the story of how they traveled to her home in Nogales to meet the grandmother that inspired her culinary career.
I had never had cocktails crafted by Bar Chef Christiaan Röllich before. He joined the team at Sanctuary during the pandemic and comes to Arizona from Amsterdam by way of Los Angeles. When the Late Lunch & Learn began, I knew it was going to be an evening of incredible cocktails. Chef Beau introduced Chef Christiaan and talked about how he is an incredible mixologist and an asset to the team because of his respect for the ingredients.
Chef Christiaan talked about creating his own base ingredients, from bitters to chocolate sauce, and I knew I was in for a treat. I was thrilled to find out that he will arrange a personalized, interactive 2-hour cocktail tasting and lesson. A mixology class with Chef Christiaan sounds like an ideal way to spend an afternoon with friends.
The Late Lunch & Learn Gets Underway
The Late Lunch & Learn was the first dinner with a group of people I've attended in almost two years, so it did have a bit of excitement going into it. But I was really wowed by the food. Each session has a different theme, and for this tequila lover, the “Meet Me in Mexico” session was perfect. It featured the flavors of Chef Sam's heritage paired with tequila cocktails by Chef Christiaan.
The views around the Valley were breathtaking and we watched a storm brewing as the waiters brought sparkling Blanc de Noirs by one of my favorite wineries—Gruet Winery in New Mexico. We ate chips and homemade salsa and an avocado dip and settled in for an evening of fun. The meal consisted of three courses, each paired with a specialty cocktail. Both chefs came to the front and demonstrated a dish and a cocktail for us while we savored the amazing flavors.
First Course Appetizer
Our first course looked beautiful and tasted amazing. We had an Ahi Tuna Tirado with a honeydew-mint aguachile, avocado, and little bits of blue corn as a crunchy bite on the top. Now, that was not just any Ahi Tuna. It had been flown in direct from the fishing boat in Hawaii that morning. It was the texture of butter and I could have simply eaten a plate of that and felt it was a perfect meal.
I was intrigued by the blue corn on top. They hydrate the blue corn and then fry it, and use little bits of it for a crunchy bite. It was almost like fresh bits of bacon on top of the tuna, but so much better. The honeydew-minute aguachile was so light and bright, perfect for the triple-digit temps outside.
First Course Cocktail
Of course, Chef Christiaan paired a cocktail with the course. He served the Blood Flower. This was gorgeous as well as full of flavor. It featured Código 1530 Rosa Blanco tequila. Chef Christiaan is extremely particular about tequila. It must be prepared traditionally. This one is ideal. It begins with Código Blanco, which is then rested for one month in French White Oak Napa Cabernet barrels.
Chef paired crafted the cocktail with rhubarb, strawberry, and ras el hanout—an earthy mix of spices that include cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, fenugreek, chili peppers, and coriander. It was a little sweet and a little spicy. He topped each with a fresh blossom.
Main Food Course
I was eagerly anticipating the main course. This was the recipe that Chef Sam demonstrated while we enjoyed our appetizer course. We had gorgeous short rib barbacoa. Again, not just any short rib. The chefs went to their purveyor and asked for special cuts. It was the short rib, with the meat trimmed from the bone, and then wrapped around it. It was so amazing and something that brazes for hours. The rib was served with cilantro, black beans, cashew salsa macha, and corn tortillas.
I thought the pickled vegetables served on it were a lovely addition and helped cut through the fat of the meat. Very few people ate the entire course, but the staff brought to-go boxes and bags, so everyone left with a treat.
Chef Sam's Short Rib Barbacoa
Here is the recipe for the Short Rib Barbacoa, courtesy of Chef Samantha Sanz and Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain. Keep in mind that you prepare this a day ahead so it can have time to soak up the marinade.
- 2 short ribs
- 5 guajillo chilies
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cups white distilled vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 TBSP high smoke point oil (canola, grapeseed, peanut)
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp whole cumin seeds
- salt and pepper
- Turn your oven to broil.
- Place garlic and onion on a sheet tray and broil until charred.
- Toast cumin seeds, bay leaves, and oregano under the broiler until fragrant, about one minute.
- Repeat with chilies, placing under the broiler for 10 seconds to slightly toast, taking care not to burn.
- Place all ingredients in a blender and puree with vinegar and water until smooth. Set aside
- Pat short ribs dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
- Place Dutch oven on stovetop and turn to medium-high heat.
- Add oil to coat the bottom of the pot.
- Once hot carefully sear short ribs on all sides until golden brown, approximately 2 minutes per side.
- Once done, turn off the stove and let the pot and contents completely cool.
- When cool, add the marinade and place it in the fridge overnight.
- The following day when ready to braise, preheat oven to 400°F and place Dutch oven inside, covered, for 35 minutes.
- Once gently simmering, turn the oven down to 350°F and cook for 2.5 to 3 hours, or until meat is tender and falls apart easily,
- Serve with corn tortillas, favorite salsas, and toppings. Enjoy!
Main Course Cocktail
Not to be outdone, Chef Christiaan again concocted an accompanying cocktail. He created the Villain.
The Villain was probably my favorite, which is surprising since I'm not a huge pineapple fan. But it was so well crafted, that it was a perfect blend of flavors. It used El Silencio Mezcal. This mezcal, handcrafted in Oaxaca, uses agaves that are roasted, crushed, and double-distilled in the traditional method.
I think all of us were full before the dessert course, but we eagerly anticipated this final pairing. And it didn't disappoint. We had an almond flan with Buñuelo crunch—a fried dough fritter—and strawberries.
The Buñuelo was delicious—a bit like a churro only lighter. And the flan was delicious. I'm not usually a fan of flan because the texture can often feel a bit soft to me. But not this one. It had this silky, creamy texture that was more like a cheesecake than flan. The cream on the plates with the fresh strawberries reminded me of a summer day with my grandmother, so I could feel the love that went into the recipe.
Dessert Course Cocktail
We had watched the progress of the dessert course cocktail, the Mexican chocolate cake, because Chef Christiaan demonstrated this one for us while we ate our main course.
He even made his own chocolate liqueur to go in the cocktail. They served them with whipped cream and sprinkles. I also suggest a spoon so you can get that chocolate, tequila, and coffee blended with the whipped cream.
The Mexican chocolate cake was made with El Tesoro Reposado, chocolate cake, and whipped cream. The El Tesoro ages for eight to 11 months in oak bourbon barrels and also makes a lovely sipping tequila. And yes, chocolate cake. Chef used a spoonful of homemade chocolate cake mix in the cocktail. This was a tasty concoction that had that wonderful taste of Mexican chocolate and the smokiness of the El Tesoro. See the recipes below for all of the details.
Mexican Chocolate Cake
This cocktail uses El Tesoro reposado, espresso, a homemade chocolate liqueur, and a homemade chocolate cake mix. Both the chocolate liqueur and chocolate cake recipes are below. Thanks to Bar Chef Christiaan Röllich and Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain for the recipes.
- 1 oz reposado tequila
- 1 oz decaf espresso
- 1 oz homemade chocolate liqueur (recipe below)
- 1 barspoon homemade chocolate cake mix
- Hawthorne cocktail strainer
- Mesh strainer
- Cocktail shaker (use a 2-piece short and tall)
- Irish coffee glass
- Whipped cream and sprinkles for garnish
- Add all ingredients to your short shaker.
- Fill it to the rim with ice.
- Put your tall shaker on top, flip it, and shake hard for seven seconds.
- Double strain the cocktail into your glass.
- Garnish with whipped cream and sprinkles.
This makes 1 liter of chocolate liqueur.
- 1 cup cacao nibs
- 2 cups brandy
- 2 cups water
- 4 cups sugar
- 1/8 tsp loose saffron
- 1/8 tsp decaf coffee beans
- Peel of half orange
- ½ tsp allspice
- ¾ tsp salt
- Medium saucepan
- Chinois or cheesecloth
- Add all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Let simmer for a few minutes, then remove from stove and let cool down to room temperature.
- Once cooled, carefully pour all contents into your blender and blend on high speed until solids look like ground coffee, about 1-2 minutes.
- Strain through a chinois or cheesecloth into a liter-size container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Chocolate Cake Mix
This makes 100 barspoons, so a little goes a long way.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- Rimmed baking sheet or pan
- Mixing bowl
- Preheat oven to 300°F so you can eat-treat your flour (do not eat raw flour).
- Spread the flour over a baking tray and bake it for two-minute intervals until the temperature hits 165°F.
- Let the heat-treated flour cool down to room temperature.
- Mix with the cocoa powder and sugar.
- Store in an airtight container.
If You Go to Late Lunch & Learn at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain
The Late Lunch & Learn sessions are available to check out online. If you miss booking one of the meals in this series, just keep checking back for more great chef experiences at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain. You can also book a dinner at elements and enjoy the great flavors. This is one of those meals where you will definitely remember the food, and with a setting like Camelback Mountain, you will create lasting memories. Be sure to check out Wander for more great dining experiences in Arizona restaurants.