Classic European Chef Integrating Local Foods
There is a good deal of buzz around the Southwest about Chef John Sharpe of the Turquoise Room Restaurant in Winslow. Located inside La Posada, the magnificent 1930 hacienda- style inn on a remote stretch of historic Route 66, the restaurant has been reborn by Chef Sharpe and his sumptuous holiday meals.
For the past 10 years, Chef Sharpe has mixed the holiday traditions of the south- west with those of his home country of England. “Christmas Eve is like the evening in Santa Fe – we deck the restaurant with luminarias and candles.” The menu features traditional tastes of the Southwest and Mexico, including wild game, lamb, fish
and mouth-watering descriptions such as red chile pipian mole sauce with roasted pumpkin seeds.
“But then on Christmas Day, we do an English Christmas dinner, since I am English,” explained the restaurateur. The variety of menu items includes a free-range, heritage Roast Christmas Goose, Roast Leg of Churro Lamb in fresh mint sauce, and prime rib with Yorkshire pudding.
“I’m not limited anymore to simply Southwest cuisine… I try to be a bit more local-foods focused with the restaurant now,” said Chef Sharpe, who escaped a decade ago from the glitz of the LA food scene. As a member of Chef’s Collaborative, he works to encourage local growers to provide the restaurant with foods of all kinds.
The European-trained chef uses local ingredients, incorporating into his menu indigenous foods that are important food sources and intrinsic to the ritual and spiri- tual lives of the Native Americans of the region.
Chef Sharpe selects Churro lamb, known for its light herbal fragrance and complex grassy flavor, from Navajo herders, traditional Piki corn bread from Hopi women, and goat cheese from local farmers. Sharpe’s prized ingredients, squash blossoms, come from Phoenix and “Coho Salmon caught by the Nez Perce tribe on the Columbia River is in the kitchen now. I always serve fish, but it depends on what is on the market.” American White Sturgeon, another local Columbia River fish, was served in a potato crust for Sharpe’s annual Thanksgiving Day dinner.
The restaurant owner is also an accomplished cookbook writer. “It’s a bit more than a cookbook,” explained Chef Sharpe of his book, La Posada’s Turquoise Room Cookbook. Along with full color photos and recipes of his creations, the book showcases historical photos of La Posada Hotel, one of the last remaining great railway hotels. The book has been praised by foodies and history buffs alike. In its second edition, the book and its author will be featured at Tucson Festival of Books in March.
A signature dish of the restaurant is the Churro lamb. “Churro lamb is totally and completely unique [to this area]. From a foodie point of view, you can get it else- where, but it’s not going to taste the same as that grown on the Rez. It’s tantamount to ‘you can only get Camargue cattle in Southern France’ or ‘the only place you can really experience Brest chicken is in Brest, France,’” explained Chef Sharpe.
Because presentation is an intrinsic part of the Turquoise Room dining experience, Chef Sharpe had to invent a way to serve the Piki bread. Piki, used in Hopi ceremonies, is paper-like blue bread. “The novelty is that the food is unique… We had to find what we call a vehicle for it, so that it will present nicely.”
To do that, Chef Sharpe created Hopi Hummus. “I boil the beans and the roasted corn and then blend them together in a food processor and add garlic, sunflower seed oil, corn oil, pumpkin oil, a little French mustard, and I come up with hummus. Just spoon the hummus onto the Piki bread. It is a tribute to their food and their cuisine, but it’s my version of it.
“It will remain a signature dish as long as the Hopi women will bring me their Piki bread,” Chef Sharpe said.
“That’s a good example of how my style of cooking and type of food have evolved in the years that we’ve been here. By looking at what is available and then figuring out a way to use it by drawing on my classically- trained techniques as a European-trained chef, I will hopefully be able to put some- thing on the table that people will enjoy.”
The local and international clientele that come regularly to the hotel and restaurant prove that he does. FBN