Husband and wife culinary teams are behind innovative ideas at three relatively-new Flagstaff restaurants. Gastronomic power couples are not new to Flagstaff restaurants (think Frank and Nancy Branham at Cottage Place or Paul and Laura Moir of SLO Restaurant Concepts, which includes Brix, Criollo and Proper Meats). But curious common denominators between these three pairs are that the female is the pastry chef, and the gent works in the savory end of the kitchen. Each couple brings high-caliber experience gleaned from afar to their kitchens in Flagstaff. The culinary duos could put on just the right touch for your romantic Valentine’s Week dinner.
Matthew and Vanessa Ronspies
Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar, Little America Hotel.
Newlyweds Vanessa and Matthew Ronspies bring youthful exuberance to Valentine’s dining at the recently renovated Little America restaurant. Vanessa, the pastry chef, and Matthew, the executive sous chef, both rely on the guidance of Little America’s Executive Chef Eduardo Mata in Flagstaff’s largest kitchen. “Sometimes, we have 30 cooks working together here,” said Matthew.
The culinary couple met while working at Waldorf Astoria’s highly acclaimed Spruce restaurant (now known as Powder) in Park City, Utah.
“I’m definitely savory, and Vanessa is smiling and sweet,” continued Matthew, who started cooking in the Navy and later leveraged his military service for tuition at California Culinary Arts, where he earned an associate’s degree, and later at the French Pastry School of Kennedy-King College at City Colleges of Chicago.
“Sweet and savory is not just related to our personalities, but what we do,” said the pastry chef, who earned her bachelor’s degree in culinary management from the Art Institute of Dallas.
“If we didn’t work together, we wouldn’t see each other,” said Matthew. Vanessa works days creating ice creams, pastries and breads, while her husband works evenings. Their opposite shifts overlap at lunchtime. “It’s nice to have lunch together here at the hotel.”
They also collaborate when Flagstaff Farmer’s Market is in session on Sundays during warmer months. The chef couple is a common sight shopping for the best locally-grown ingredients. “We load my truck full of produce and bring it back here to the hotel,” said Matthew, adding that one of their favorite farmers grows on land just behind the Little America property.
Valentine’s specials at Silver Pine Restaurant will run the weekend before Valentine’s Day and Tuesday, Feb. 14, and include Alaskan crab legs with a surf and turf option. Bacon-wrapped scallops and roasted red pepper soup with be on the list of Valentine’s-themed appetizers.
Vanessa has fashioned two unique dessert selections: Red velvet cake with white chocolate mousse and a Samoas Girl Scout Cookie Tiramisu that substitutes the traditional coffee with orange and rum, layered with ricotta cheese mousse, chocolate and cookie crumbs. (See related story.)
Joe and Dara Rodger
Shift Kitchen + Bar
The young chef-owners of Shift Kitchen + Bar are among Flagstaff restauranteurs who are striving to make the mountain town famous for its food. Working with other local chefs and brewers, they share ideas and suppliers of locally-sourced foods. Their Valentine’s menu is a four-course extravaganza, including herb-roasted pork loin, with all-Arizona pairings. “There will be a dish of spaghetti and meatballs (almost Lady and the Tramp-like) of course, all house made,” said Dara Rodger, pastry chef. “For dessert, I will be doing a molten chocolate cake with a beet ganache inside so that it pours out red!”
She met her chef husband, Joe, while working at Boulder, Colorado’s Frasca Food and Wine, a James Beard Foundation award-winning restaurant. “We like to collaborate our skills to make the perfect dish,” explained Dara, who is known for her artfully composed plates. Sweet and salty describes them as a couple “because I’m sweet and Joe is salty! Oh, and quite literally, I am a pastry chef, and Joe is an executive chef, so naturally we go to those characteristics.” Shift Kitchen + Bar offers two seatings for the Valentine ’s Day dinner with pairings, one at 5:30 and one at 7:30 for $55 per person.
Brian Konefal and Paola Fioravanti
“Sweet and savory” describe the Coppa Café couple because “its’s like yin and yang,” said pastry chef Paola Fioravanti. “There is no salt without sugar.”
“Sweet and savory is a dynamic of everyone,” explained her husband, Brian Konefal. “No one is all sweet or all savory. We are some of both. Who doesn’t want dessert? We all want dessert, but we can’t eat it all the time.” The owners and chefs of the Flagstaff eatery met in Italy while attending culinary school. They worked in Michelin-star rated restaurants in Europe before bringing their talent to Flagstaff.
Brian uses house-cured meats, ingredients from nearby farms and ranches and foraged foods found in the forests to incorporate into his menu. Paola has perfected the fine European pastry.
During Valentine’s Week, a set menu with multiple courses makes it an easy date night because the chef makes the choices. A romantic dessert – chocolate soufflé with passionfruit sauce in the middle and vanilla bean gelato on the side – will be created by Paola. The small and intimate restaurant also offers Valentine’s-themed pastries, treats and chocolates for pick-up at the counter all week before Valentine’s Day.
Shift Kitchen + Bar
107 North San Francisco St, Ste. 2, Flagstaff
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar
Little America Hotel
2515 E Butler Ave, Flagstaff
1300 South Milton Road #107, Flagstaff
By Stacey Wittig