When chefs talk about their culinary point of view, it generally boils down to the uniqueness of their style, standards and technique.
When Chef Ken Harvey talks about his, however, it’s more about a personal attitude than it is about a particular approach.
“Culinary point of view is a big thing to have, but when you serve 10,000 guests a week, you have to do every style and have every point of view,” said Harvey, executive chef at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive. “Having team integrity, and doing the right thing when no one is watching, that’s more important for me than culinary point of view.”
So what does integrity look like on the new seasonal menu at the resort’s Flying V Bar and Grill?
Introducing the rabbit relleno.
“The chile relleno is something that Tucson is known for, and we try to tie in Tucson not only to our locals but to everybody who comes through the building,” he said. It’s his way of showcasing what he calls “our uniquely local environment.”
But it’s Harvey’s twist on the classic chile relleno that has people hopping up to the resort in herds.
He starts by laying out and salting a farm-raised rabbit leg and letting it dry overnight. It’s then slowly rendered in duck fat, confit-style, stuffed into a roasted poblano chile with a blend of cheeses, tossed in a whipped egg white and egg yolk coating, pan fried and plated with pickled red onions and a light mole verde cream sauce.
“Rabbit is light and incredibly sweet, believe it or not,” he told me, challenging my assumption that the meat would be more bold and gamey. “This dish is just another twist on something with quality ingredients and some creativity.”
Speaking of creativity, there’s also the dehydrated kumquat powder that Harvey’s pastry chef, Krista Owens, uses in her mascarpone no-bake cheesecake, but I digress.
While integrity can be about quality and creativity, it can also mean authenticity, and Harvey regularly invites his guests to personally experience the tools, techniques and traditions associated with many of the native ingredients that he uses at the resort. His Summer Desert Cooking Series even brings guests out onto the property for group foraging exercises.
“We forage everything with our guests,” he said. “We rip mesquite pods out of the trees, we break off prickly pears, and we make everything as a team, sending guests home with not only a product but a way to connect with their outside environment.”
Harvey partners with Tohono O’odham Community Action whose tribal representatives teach class participants traditional ways to use these indigenous ingredients, while he and his culinary team demonstrate how to use them in a more contemporary style.
The final class in this year’s Desert Cooking Series, prickly pear fruit harvesting, is Aug. 15 at 2 p.m.
Participants will learn about creative applications for prickly pear in barbeque as well as ways to bring the cactus fruit into cocktails. The class costs $35 per person, and reservations can be made by calling 299-2020.
Quality, creativity, and authenticity. Three dimensions of integrity through the eyes of a local chef. And if that rabbit confited in duck fat is any indication, I’d say we have ourselves some seriously virtuous victuals.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 4-5 p.m. Saturdays on KEVT Power Talk 1210-AM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030-AM.