Fabulous Fare From Phoenix

SUNDAY GOURMENT

December 02, 1990|By Gail Forman

For 60 years Phoenicians have called it the "Jewel of the Desert": the Arizona Biltmore hotel. It is a dramatic Frank Lloyd Wright design that reflects the local Indian heritage, the colors of the desert and the geometry of Squaw Peak Mountain, all the while exuding an old-time elegance. But the food cooked in its Orangerie restaurant by chef John Makin is as up-to-date as "modern American" cuisine can be.

Mr. Makin, who graduated "first in class" from the Culinary Institute of America, stands out among the other world-class chefs who have put Phoenix on the culinary map with food that is a blend of cultural tastes and techniques.

The international overtones in his cooking come naturally, since he grew up "all around the Orient," traveling with his father, a shipping agent. His repertoire includes dishes such as Thai-inspired lemon grass consomme; Indian-influenced grilled shrimp; Northern Italian-style wild boar sausage, and Philippine-inspired banana fritters.

Nevertheless, as with so many other chefs, Southwest-style cooking has also captured Mr. Makin's imagination. He uses local ingredients, such as cactus pads, blue corn, mesquite, tomatillos and masa, to create the strong, bold flavors that characterize his cooking.

Mr. Makin likes to say of his food, "When you put it in your mouth, you know you're alive. When the menu says there's garlic, you know there's garlic. But I use hot peppers more for flavoring than to create heat. The play on textures is more important."

His sauces are clean, smooth and light -- he calls them "essences." His dishes "have heart," he says; they're "direct and to the point." Pepper-cured venison with green chili aioli, crispy cayenne pasta, smoked rabbit confit with zinfandel mole sauce, wild Texas antelope with black bean cumin sauce, grilled duck breast with black bean ginger vinaigrette and Southwest smoked salmon with ancho cream suggest how far the Southwest influence has carried him.

BILTMORE'S SMOKED SALMON WITH ANCHO CREAM SAUCE

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

6 ounce salmon fillet

1/2 cup hickory or mesquite wood chips

1 teaspoon white sugar

ANCHO CREAM SAUCE:

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon chopped shallots

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon chopped cilantro

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 cups fish stock

J tablespoons ancho puree, available in Hispanic grocery stores

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

salt and pepper to taste

Combine brown sugar with salt and rub over salmon. Meanwhile, soak wood chips with white sugar and water to cover. Rub off excess salt mixture and place salmon with drained wood chips in a stove-top smoker or in a covered charcoal grill. Cook over medium high heat 9 minutes. To make sauce, heat oil in a small skillet and saute garlic and shallots. Add wine, lime juice, cilantro and cumin. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add fish stock and ancho puree. Simmer 1/2 hour. Combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water. Add to sauce. When sauce thickens, add cream and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. End of gourmet-

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