Chef Samantha Sanz

redefines Latin-inspired cuisine

Above: Chef Samantha Sanz draws inspiration from Latin cuisines.

In the autumn of 2015, under the skillful eye of chef Mel Mecinas, Samantha Sanz joined Talavera restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon. When Mecinas left one year later, Four Seasons veteran Chuck Kazmer stepped in. Recognizing Sanz’s culinary talent, Kazmer gave her carte blanche to run the Talavera kitchen as she saw fit. 

Not only did Sanz meet that challenge, but she far exceeded expectations. Drawing from her Mexican heritage, as well as inspiration from other Latin cuisines, she reinvented the menu and polished the presentation of every dish.

 A native of Nogales, Mexico, Sanz was raised in a restaurant family.  “Our restaurant, Trocadero, was founded by my grandparents over 60 years ago. I was always interested in whatever the cooks were making and spent all my free time watching.” Her future was decided.

Top: Great care is taken in both the preparation and presentation of all dishes. Bottom: Talavera’s De Mariscos Paella, a combination of clams, mussels, lobster and a carabinero prawn on a cushion of rice, is a showstopper.

Now focused on a career path, she moved to Scottsdale and enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu (now the Scottsdale Culinary Institute) where she flourished. Mentored by two local culinary superstars, first Beau MacMillan at Sanctuary and then Gio Osso at Virtù, Sanz credits both experiences as incredible. 

In between the restaurants, there was a year she spent exploring Paris, the ultimate foodie destination. “Paris taught me so much about food preparation and presentation,” recalls Sanz. “The most important lesson I learned abroad was the art of ‘less is more’; to showcase the beauty of one main element instead of 10. I remind myself daily to adhere to this principle when creating new dishes in Talavera.”

It’s Sanz’s spin on classic Latin dishes that show her flair for partnering unexpected ingredients. Even her rustic Spanish traditional tapas, Pan con Tomate, is elevated to new heights. Sanz spreads crunchy, toasted Noble Bakery bread with chunky heirloom tomato, garlic, olive oil and salt. Equally irresistible is Pan de Queso. Fashioned on Colombian cheese bread, the buttery biscuits – golden-brown outside, yet delicate inside – are filled with melted cotija cheese.

 Above: Talavera, with dramatic desert views and refined Southwestern décor, is a modern take on the classic steakhouse.

When ordering from the charcuterie and cheese section, splurge on Spain’s Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. Considered one of the finest hams in the world, 36-months of aging produces a sweet and distinctive nutty flavor. When accompanied with Sanz’s orange-rhubarb jam creation, the combo is heavenly. 

Also in that section, try the Manchego Cheese. Three triangles of the smooth sheep’s milk queso, aged for 12- months, are served with a tart-sweet quince paste and tiny squares of moist, almond-studded fig cake. Simply divine. 

From the tapas section there’s Gambas al Ajillo, a buttery, garlicky variation on shrimp scampi — huge, fluffy whole prawns float in a bright tomatillo and cilantro-based mole verde. A topping of seasoned bread crumbs adds both texture and crunch. 

Keeping with Talavera’s steakhouse tradition, the 20-ounce Bone-in Ribeye is well worth the hefty price tag. Cooked to perfection, each rich slice is beautifully caramelized and crispy at its edges. Completing the dish are churrasco salsa and grilled maitake mushrooms. 

Top: The prime cuts of meat are cooked to perfection. Bottom: The menu focuses on traditional and modern takes on Spanish classics.

For seafood fans, the Paella de Mariscos, is Talavera’s signature showstopper. Ultra-moist, ultra-rich and ultra-delicious, the dish is piled high with plump clams and mussels, succulent lobster and a bright-red, sweet and savory Carabinero prawn. The bed of blackened rice that cushions these delicacies is equally flavorful.

Even if you have to do a few laps around the resort grounds, leave room for dessert. The finale is handled by Sanz’s colleague, pastry chef extraordinaire Lance Whipple. His Cinnamon Churros, served with warm, saffron-scented chocolate sauce, are outstanding. If you prefer something lighter, go with the Passion Fruit Cheesecake. Topped with toasted meringue it’s served with gin-spiked blackberry jam. For those so inclined, the decadent Tres Leches Cake topped with dulce de leche ice cream and a wedge of coffee nut brittle, surrounded by Kahlúa rum sauce takes dessert to a whole new level.

Through September 16, Talavera is offering Summer in Seville, a tasting menu for two, priced at $98. The special includes a bottle of Sparkling Cava or a porrón of Sangria, Pan con Tomate and Queen Creek Olives to share and one item each from Vendura, Tapas and Paella. For details, visit www.talaverarestaurant.com