Podcast Episode 67

How Iron Chef Winner Beau MacMillan Creates Emotional Experiences with Food

Beau MacMillan | 49 Minutes | November 8, 2022

In today’s episode, we speak with our guest, Beau MacMillan, Executive Chef of the award-winning Sanctuary Resort and Spa Camelback Mountain, Iron Chef America winner, and guest judge on Worst Cooks in America, Chopped, and Guy’s Grocery Games.

Throughout his experience cooking in distinguished kitchens for A-list celebrities and US presidents, Beau has gained a unique insight into the emotional connection people have to food, and how a good meal transcends the senses.

Listen as Beau talks about defeating Chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, a chocolate cake during an interview that changed his life, and how to create emotion-evoking experiences with food.

Watch the podcast episode:

Video thumbnail play

Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with the distinguished and critically-acclaimed Chef Beau MacMillan. Many of you know Beau from his appearance on “Iron Chef America,” where he defeated Iron Chef Bobby Flay, as well as his time as a guest judge on “The Worst Cooks in America,” “Chopped,” Guy Fieri’s “Grocery Games,” but what makes Chef Beau a true culinary gem is his enthusiast approach to building a robust culinary scene in Arizona.

Beau is the executive chef of the award-winning Sanctuary Resort and Spa at Camelback Mountain for 23 years, where he led a trailblazing culinary brigade since 1998. In 2001, in partnership with former executive chef Charles Wiley, he opened up the award-winning elements, a triple-A, Four-Diamond restaurant, and now remains on the culinary staff as a culinary advisor to Sanctuary on Camelback.

Beau has cooked with such distinguished kitchens as the James Beard House,
“Bon Appetit” magazine in New York, and Hotel Bel-Air. He’s also cooked for such personalities as President Bush, Britney Spears, U2, Michel Richard, Jacques Pepin, and Michel Roux Sr.

Join me today as I chat it up with Chef Beau about his life, his work, and what he’s passionate about today.

And there he is! Good morning, Chef. How are you?

Beau MacMillan: Hey. Hot intro, Kirk. Thanks, Buddy, I appreciate it.

Kirk Bachmann: I’m a little winded. Let me tell you.

Beau MacMillan: I forgot half of what you said.

Kirk Bachmann: And we’re just getting started. I’m sitting in Boulder. I know you’re in Scottsdale. Thanks for joining us early. I know you’ll have something funny to say about this, but what is it? Like 90 degrees?

Beau MacMillan: Yeah. It’s going to be a cool 90 in Phoenix today.

Kirk Bachmann: Cool 90 in Phoenix. Oh my God! They say in 50 years, Boulder will be just like Phoenix. I don’t think I’ll be around for that. Stay cool.

Beau MacMillan: Right on.

Kirk Bachmann: So absolutely larger than life personality. So appreciative of your time today. It’s really cool to meet you. People will figure out pretty quickly that we’ve got some common friends, and that one person in particular is Jon-Paul Hutchins whom we’ve both known for many years. He’ll love the plug.

Beau MacMillan: I love JP.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s hard not to. You’ve got to stay on his good side, man, because he is a funny man. He and I years ago had the pleasure of dining together at Sanctuary. Your ears have probably been burning of late because both JP and your other good friend, Chef Lee Hillson there in Scottsdale, have been on the show lately. They speak so highly of you. I absolutely love it.

Beau MacMillan: Long-time friendships with both of those gents. Man. Have some great stories. It’s crazy. When JP called me – he was the one who referred me to you and vice versa – it’s funny because he’s one of those guys that you can just pick up where you left off. Good, good person. Same with Lee.

Approachable Food with a High Energy Vibe

Kirk Bachmann: Well said. I love that.

So many questions. I’ve done a little bit of research. You’ve been busy, which I so appreciate. I’d love to kick this off with this quote that I read. It was part of another interview that you had been doing. You were talking about one of your newest ventures, CALA. What you said was that, “CALA is a place that guests will find themselves not wanting to leave: vibrant, with great energy, and an immersive environment with an experience that offers something for everyone.” Then you went on to say that, “We’ve intentionally,” – I love the word “intentional” – “intentionally created a modern establishment with a perfectly curated vibe and approachable food.” Of course, with cocktails and such.

Beau MacMillan: I said that?

Kirk Bachmann: You said that! They put your name on it! I absolutely-

Beau MacMillan: That’s so good.

Kirk Bachmann: It is good! And I want to pull it apart. We’ll put the pieces of your incredible journey together in just a moment, but this notion of “approachable food” is super, super interesting to me. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

Beau MacMillan: Yeah! It’s funny because just hearing through that, and whenever [I] set a goal for life, whenever I’ve cooked, whenever I’ve thought about hospitality, it always comes down to the market, what I’m trying to provide, the occasion. That’s really where food has taken me. This opportunity with this restaurant, CALA, we had an unbelievable location, but it was quite different from the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary had more of an upper-scale, finer dining approach to everything with this unbelievable view sitting on top of a mountain.

I’m now morphed down to Old Town Scottsdale, which I’m on the fringe of that. That’s the high energy, very popular district among younger patrons that like to go out and experience the high energy nightlife. We wanted to craft something to that. I think that’s where everything came from. One, I needed to create a vibe there. I had to have the restaurant be stylish and seductive. With that vibe, it also had to be comforting and add the other components, like really good lighting and really good music. This is the first restaurant I’ve ever really cooked in that I have a DJ, but what a nice touch it is for that market that comes in and plays on the weekends. I try to describe it as a little bit of a hybrid restaurant because you can come in early and try to get the diners out of the way. But as the diners get out of the way, the lighting goes down, the music comes up, and it morphs right into a place where you don’t want to leave to go somewhere else. You have everything you need.

Kirk Bachmann: To stay.

Beau MacMillan: Kirk, when I talk about approachability with food – and I’m so close to it. We’re so emotionally connected to it. When I look at food, there is so much you can do to it. When you look at the science of food, when you look at the art of food, it’s really tapping into what your soundtrack is. Something always leads me back to one of my biggest sayings in food, “Simplicity is perfection.”

Then approachability is, “How can I make food that is recognizable, but still put chef-driven twists on it with my team and transcend somebody, evoke a memory or a thought process, or give them the best of what that is. At the end of the day, whether you’re cooking three-star Michelin cuisine, or you’re cooking the perfect roast chicken, it’s going to speak to you. That’s what I was looking for. I was trying to take some of the dishes in life that I loved the most, with CALA’s modern cuisine.

Kirk Bachmann: This whole idea of someone, or a party, or a couple wanting to go out to dinner, and nothing holds them back. Sometimes price, sometimes status, sometimes reputation, but this idea of building a place where people want to go. “I’ve got to get in line. I’ve got to get there.” I love that approach.

Beau MacMillan: I think what’s crazy is when you look at a restaurant in today’s world – and this is hard coming from guys like you and I who are chefs because we’re so close to the food and [food] really has to matter a lot [for] this essence. I’m not saying at CALA it doesn’t [care about food], because we have an unbelievably passionate culinary team.

But what’s crazy is in today’s world is a younger market [wants] energy and vibe, location, music. They sometimes are right up there. I didn’t want to lose that. I wanted it to be there. Service as well. Food is not an afterthought, but it’s not overtaking what we want to do. I want to be able to have a 16-year-old come in and a 55-year-old person come in and you’ve got that G-rated menu, there’s items that they know and love. But there’s also some room on the menu to try some things that may inspire you.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I just spent about ten days in the south of France, in Nice, and one place that we went, to your point, was a rooftop restaurant/bar. Started out with pool over here, great views, the Mediterranean right ahead of us. The menu was great. They had a DJ who was playing pretty soft as the evening wore on, but by the time the lights came down and the stars came out, younger people started coming in. The music started pumping a little bit more. We found ourselves sitting around the table like, “We had other plans…” but we were like –

Beau MacMillan: We’re going to stay.

Kirk Bachmann: I think we’re going to just stay. Another round. Really cool.

Another example of that: A good friend of mine, a restaurateur here in Boulder named Bobby Stuckey. He’s got a restaurant group. You’ve probably run into him in the Aspen Food and Wine festival. He’s got a really cool Italian restaurant in downtown Denver called Tavernetta. Recently, based on what you’re saying, he opened up a sister spot five steps away called Sunday Vinyl. You finish dinner, and then you go into this cool place where they are spinning albums and the night just continues.

Beau MacMillan: You’re in Bobby Stuckey country. He’s the man in that part of the [world [00:09:57]. In fact, I’m very close with his cousin who lives in Scottsdale, Guy Stuckey. His wife and I worked together at Sanctuary for a long time.

Kirk Bachmann: No way!

Beau MacMillan: Look at Bobby Stuckey and all his accolades. One of the best wine guys in the country. When you look at the whole market, what’s funny is – my partners at Clive Collective were very successful in the bar business before we got into this group to do our thing. I speak on this a lot with Mikis Troyan, my partner. Food is entertainment, food and wine and drink.

Now, the American diner is just as concerned with whether their water glass is full as where they’re sitting in the restaurant, and how the lighting is. What’s the sound like? They’re very aware and very in-tune with that. For the longest times, Chefs could really tap into their own senses and it came down to their palate. It was sweet, salty, bitter, sour. But restaurateurs think about all those flavors – that’s my dog, Daisy, barking. Daisy chill! – They have to think about all those flavors, and then figure out how to really tap into those sensory levels like music. Everything else.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Clive Collective. I’ve got a lot of thoughts there. Any story around Collective? Is Collective really about thought leaders in the food world?

Beau MacMillan: That’s what it was. Mikis Troyan and Justin Massei, my two partners with Clive, just gems of human beings. They started very young in this business, but built more of an empire in the beverage world with more high-energy bars. They wanted to transcend into food. That was their goal. When they approached me, they said, “Look, we want to get after it, look at some spaces, and do some fun stuff, but we want to do it in the restaurant space. Beau, we need a guy like you.” That’s how it came down.

The Collective was more putting like-minded individuals together that wanted to provide experiences. It wasn’t just, “Let’s put some paint on 6000 square feet, come up with a quick concept and go.” We wanted people with the Collective to understand. For instance, CALA, when you walk into it, there’s some branding there. You feel like you could be in Tulum. You feel you could be in Spain in a little coastal town, that’s where CALA transcends to go. We put some Mediterranean riffs on it, but we can pretty much go anywhere with the space. It’s light. It’s fresh. It’s inspired and it’s approachable.

What Inspired Chef Beau

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I’m going to come back to the vibe in a bit. For our audience, I want to jump into who you are. You’re a New England chef, right, born in Maine, I think. Any really cool memories from the East Coast when you were growing up? Did you grow up in a food-centric family? Or is that something that came later?

Beau MacMillan: Since I was very young, I always felt like I had this attachment to food. I think a lot of that came from my grandmother. It’s really three-fold. When I look at this, I was born in Maine, but I was only raised there until about the age of six. Then I moved to Massachusetts. Half of my family is from Montreal, Quebec, which is one of the greatest food cities in North America.

At a very early age, I was turned on to hospitality, and I loved it. When I think about Maine, one of my greatest food memories was my parents taking me out to the country to a little town called Foxcroft. We probably picked 30 pounds of wild Maine blueberries. I must have been five years old. We made ice cream in an old, hand-cranked wooden ice cream machine with the salt and the ice outdoors. I remember tasting that ice cream and thinking, “My life has changed forever.” It was really one of my first aha moments in food. Look at what you could not only create, look out how much better it was when you out and picked your own berries and did it that way.

Then my grandmother from Montreal was just such a host. Hospitality is that relationship between the host and the guests. It’s created organically. We need each other. She was an adamant giver.

Those are the things that I looked at in my life as being a chef. It’s tough; this industry is a very demanding industry and can pull a lot from you, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to stay grounded. You can’t believe your own B.S. I didn’t get in this business to be rich. I didn’t get into this business to be famous. I got into this business because I wanted to be able to express myself through food and hospitality. I want to stay in that moment. Chefs need to be givers. They have to please. You work for others. That’s how it goes.

I got that from my grandmother, who was also a pretty awesome cook. That was a Montreal connection. Then in Massachusetts, my surrogate mom, Eva Laranger was from Rome, Italy. She was one of my best buddy’s mom. Let me tell you, she inspired me with her Italian cuisine and cooking. It was so amazing.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Montreal is also a great evening vibe place. Lots of energy. Lots of young people.

I love how you can easily go back to some memories: the blueberries. Moving forward a little. Again, I know that a lot of our listeners will be students looking for that spark, that inspiration. Tell me what it was like when you decided, “Hey, I’m going to make a career out of this. I’m going to get educated. I’m going to go to Johnson & Wales here on the East Coast.” Was there any specific person, mentor, inspiration? Or was it just a complete package: this is where I’m going?

Beau MacMillan: It took all of that. It takes an army. I’ve got to be honest with you; if I didn’t have the people in my life when I look back that believed in me or wanted to help me, I wouldn’t be where I was today. That started with one of my greatest mentors in food, a chef named Francois de Melogue that I worked with in Carver, Massachusetts. Francois. It’s crazy. You look back and go, “Was this guy real?” There was a culinary, god-like aspect about Francois that completely flipped the script for me.

Keep in mind that at the time, I’m in high school. I’m 16 years old. I was already cooking. I was already working for my best friend’s uncle in his little mom and pop shop making clam chowder and sandwiches, cafeteria stuff. Then I graduated to some short order stuff in my hometown, but I’m from New England. It was all deep-friend and had lemon and tartar sauce with it. You thought, “Okay, that’s a dish.” It was crazy.

Kirk Bachmann: It still is.

Beau MacMillan: It really is! It really is.

There was this restaurant about four miles up the street called the Carne Brook Tea Room. I knew that when the Prime Minister of Japan visited, he ate dinner there. When Bo Derek came to town – I’m talking the ‘80s, you know what I mean – she had dinner there. They had a job opening, and I went and took this job. I walked in. I remember it like it was yesterday. The chef was like, “What? Are you here for the position?” I was a dishwasher/prep cook, a job I had to get my foot in the door in a good restaurant.

Francois interviewed me. He was in a full-on toque, full-on shirt. I was like, “Who is this guy?” You know what I mean? He was talking to me about food. You have no idea. I remember, Kirk, I filled out an application. While I was sitting at the table filling out my application, the chef walked by and said, “Can I bring you a piece of cake?” I was trying to be nice.

I said, “Oh, no thank you.” Whatever, and stuff like this. And I was like, “Oh my God, what if I offended the guy?! He offered me a piece of his cake, and I didn’t take it!” I’m still filling out my application, scared I’m going to screw that up.

Long story short, he came back and gave me another shot. He said, “You sure you don’t want a piece of cake?”

I said, “Look, I’ll try a piece.” He brings me a piece of this chocolate cake. Believe or not, I was a savory guy. I wasn’t really a sweet guy. I remember taking my spoon and running it through the three layers of that chocolate cake. It was like butter. It was just [inaudible [00:18:08]. I remember tasting that cake. This is no lie! I remember closing my eyes and saying to myself in that moment, “I have never experienced anything like this. If I can be half as good as this, I’m going to be somebody.” That’s where it was for me.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something? I love that.

Beau MacMillan: That year that I worked for Francois, it changed my life. I was cooking sweetbreads. I was cooking escargots. I remember this guy, thinking, “Holy cow!” He made me memorize the first page of “Le Repertoire” before I came back to work. This guy knew he wanted to be a chef at the age of seven. That’s how good he was.

That really inspired me. That was the first transition into my thought process saying, “This isn’t a job. This is your life.”

Then in high school, I took a vocational class and I had an amazing chef who was one of the biggest influential chefs at Johnson & Wales, later on, a guy named Frank Terranova out of Rhode Island. Frank used to kick my butt and say, “Mac! What are you going to do with your life? What are you going to do? You’re a senior. What do you want to do?”

I didn’t think I had the grades to do anything. “Maybe I’m going to go into the military. Who knows?” And he goes, “I’m going to make a call for you. You’re going to go down to Johnson & wales.” That chef made the call for me. I remember sitting there with the dean of Johnson & Wales in some big office down in my school. No lie: if you remember that movie, “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” The first set with the guy, they’re trying to rush home for Thanksgiving, and the boss is looking at the transcripts?

That’s how the dean was looking at my grades through high school. “So tell me again why you want to attend a university?”

“Bro! Give me a shot! Please, I can do this.” And he did.

Finding Francois

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I love that. Did you ever have a chance to have Francois come out to Sanctuary?

Beau MacMillan: Man. There are so many stories. I lost touch with Francois after he moved to Chicago. My life went in this direction, his went in this. I lost touch with him. For 15 years I tried to find this guy, but you’ve got to understand, Francois was a unique individual. He didn’t have a phone in his home. He wrote letters. All of his artwork at his house was all pictures of his own food that he took. He lived in this little shack in Carver and walk his award-winning hound dog. He was just a different human.

I had to track this guy down, track him down with the internet, everything. All I want to do, literally, for the fifteen years after I started achieving and started getting some fame, all I wanted to do was come up and thank him. I just wanted to say, “You have no idea that year, what you did for my life. You lit this huge spark in my life and really put me on this path.” I dreamed someday I could cook with him again.

Long story short, it got to the point where I couldn’t find him. I was thinking, “Was the guy even real in my life?” Whatever. Taking it back to Johnson & Wales: one night I’m in the restaurant and Dean Schneider comes in with a group of guys and has dinner. Afterwards he calls me up to the table. I had no idea he was there. He said, “Beau, we’re so proud of you. We’ve been following your career. We would be honored if you would be a distinguished guest chef at Johnson & Wales, which was one of the highest accolades. I was just astounded.

I go back to JW. I get to speak to 300 students and do a cooking demo like Martin Yan did for me. It was one of my proudest moments, to really connect with these kids and say, “Look. If this clown can make it, you’ve got a chance here. This is going to happen.”

I was sitting at a luncheon the next day with the dean, and his wife asked me where it all began. That’s where the Francois story came up. She goes, “He must be so proud of you.”

“I have no idea where he is.”

She goes, “No way! Have you tried to find him?”

“For years. I can’t find him.”

She goes, “Where did he go to school?”

“He’s a  NECI [New England Culinary Institute] graduate,” the school in Montpelier.

She goes, “I’m going to make a call.”

Two days later, I had his phone number. I called him. We’ve been as thick as thieves since. He’s come back and cooked with me at Sanctuary a bunch. In fact, he was making wine in Anderson Valley, and I got him back into the kitchens. It kind of went full circle. The guy who inspired me in my life early, propelled me to where I was going, and later on I found him and got him out of the wine world and said, “Get back in the kitchen. You’re too good not to be cooking.”

Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable story! The chills running up and down my spine right now. I could call it a day right now. That story was good enough. My God! Thanks for sharing that. That’s so cool. I love that.

Just like you shared that story and you went back to J-Wu and spoke to students, our students are going to listen to your words today, too. The inspiration and level of energy is just absolutely insane. We know it’s 100-degree weather, too, the dog barking.

Beau MacMillan: We’ve got the dog outside. My pool guys arrived. I didn’t plan anything. I’m good in the kitchen. Outside of my life, thank God for my wife and my family.

Iron Chef: The Best and Worst Thing

Kirk Bachmann: Hey, let’s talk “Iron Chef” a little bit.

Beau MacMillan: Sure.

Kirk Bachmann: I don’t think there’s many that haven’t heard of “Iron Chef” and “Kitchen Stadium” and all that. Now it’s back on Netflix, so it’s a whole new generation. They’re streaming. Again, so much respect for anyone that’s standing next to us, with us, in the kitchen. I know, knowing you now, this wasn’t about defeating Bobby Flay. I’d rather ask, how was that, hanging, cooking side-by-side with someone as passionate as Bobby? Coming out on top is one thing, but I imagine it was pretty emotional, pretty cool to be on the other side of the kitchen from him.

Beau MacMillan: It was. It was probably the best and worst thing that ever happened to me at the same time. It was the honor and the respect and just the complete excitement when I was asked to compete on the show. From an emotional standpoint, I can’t tell you just how grateful and how excited I was.

The day before the show, I was crying and I had a snot bubble in my nose, going, “Why the hell did you sign up for this?” Literally! It was intense. It was truly intense, and it was because at the time, I think I was about 31 or 32 years old, maybe a little older, even. I had been such a fan of the show. It was in season three when they brought it back. I had been a religious fan of “Iron Chef.” I watched it from the cult classic and how it migrated over to America. I literally dreamed that someday maybe I could do it.

I had so much respect for Bobby Flay and all the other chefs as well. I looked at it and said, “This was more.” It was the competition of my life. It was, “Can I do this?” This was my credibility. This was everything I’d put into it, all the people that I worked for, all the ways I believed. I had to harness all of that.

Leading up to the show, what was crazy – true story. I was probably sleeping only about four hours a night because I would have dreams. “What if I needed to do this? How do I do this? What’s this in the thing?” All this stress and energy, it was like a Friday night. You’re on saute and two guys called out sick. There’s 400 covers on the books, and you’ve got to be in the zone and ready to rock and roll. That intense, gut energy. “I’m not going down tonight. This isn’t going to happen.”

I just remember trying to mentally prepare myself. It was the mental that was the real tough part. When I finally got to “Iron Chef,” I was with my two sous chefs that were so fired up: Katie Lorenzen, Tony Henman. I remember looking in their eyes right before. They gave us 15 minutes to warm up. Once I finally hit that kitchen and started turning on the stoves, looking at my cutting board, setting up all my little garnishes and my salt, my pepper, feeling the heat from the things. Turning around and looking at those guys, saw Bobby Flay and his team walk in. I looked at my guys and asked, “Are you ready?”

“Yep. You ready?”

“Let’s go.”

Literally, they said, “Go!” and I don’t remember anything except for moving as fast as I could possibly move my team. Everything that we worked out that day. The sauce was better than it had ever been. This came out perfectly, like somebody was looking out for us.

The only other thing I can remember was when I got to the judging table, I was trying to deliver my food and hope that it made sense to the judges. I didn’t want to make a mistake on how I described it. It’s funny: how you intro’d the show on approachability. I remember about three weeks before my battle, I was talking to Art Smith. He came in and had dinner in my restaurant. Art had been a judge. I said, “Art, if you can give the best piece of advice to a kid like me going on the show, what would it be?”

You know what Art said to me? He said, “Keep it simple.”

Kirk Bachmann: Oh, I love it.

Beau MacMillan: He said, “Make the ingredients stand up.”

I thought about that. “No! This is ‘Iron Chef!’”

He said, “No. At the end of the day, whatever the marquee ingredient is has to be the star. Everything around it should be simple.”

I drew Kobe beef, which was *knocks on wood* Again, do you want to drive a Ferrari or do you want to drive a Volkswagen bug? I could have gotten lima beans! I probably would have cried myself out of the stadium. I thought, “This is unbelievable, the luck.”

So I literally took that beef and I tried to raise it to the highest level through a tasting. It just worked out. It just worked out. It was pretty epic. That moment, Kirk, I’m not going to lie to you. I had such a fan base and support. I wanted to win gracefully; I wanted to lose gracefully. It was really a challenge with myself and my guys and how much pride we had in what we did.

But at the end of the day, I knew that would change my life. I didn’t know how. But I also knew – and this is true – I knew in that moment that it may change my life, but it’s never going to change me. I was never going to believe my own B.S. I could have battled Bobby five more times, and I could have a 1-5 record against him. You know what I’m saying? It’s something I’m incredibly grateful for, but I only wanted to use that opportunity to be thankful and to also help others. In fact, there’s a tie-in to Lee and his battle. It’s about supporting each other. That’s really what it comes down to for me. I have nothing but gratitude, Man. I’ve been a really blessed guy.

I’ve really tried to follow food for the right reasons. Food can take you anywhere. It’s your first language. It’s the bridge that can connect you from here to Nice, like you just said. Or back and forth. It can take people from all different walks of life who don’t agree on anything and bring them together and agreeing, “That’s the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had in my life.” I didn’t have a degree from Harvard. I had a simple degree in emotion, in sensory levels, and the passion, the art, the colors, the presentations, and the ultimate act of giving, which, to me, takes me back to my grandma and how there was love there. There was sharing. I love those feelings. I enjoy it.

As Good as Your Last Dish

Kirk Bachmann: I love the emotion, and I love the humility, too. I love the fact that the names of your sous chefs just roll off your tongue, because it’s team work. We’ll get to that in just a bit, your commitment to community and others.

I want to talk about the simplicity thing again. I’ve read that your approach to food, as you’ve basically said, is that food should not be overworked, but rather appreciated for its simplicity, its natural perfection, I think. Simplicity is perfection is what you said. At the end of the day, it’s about the food. Is it difficult to not get caught up in the bright lights?

U2 – one of the games I love to play when I take people out to dinner and everybody’s enjoying it, I’ll kind of pause everything and say, “Okay, hey. Top five bands of all time. Go.” People are like, “Whoa! Wait, what?!” And they love the game. U2 is always at the top of my podium.

Beau MacMillan: I love it.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. I’ve seen them ten times. I just love them. Larger than life. They can do anything they want. When you’re cooking for someone like U2 or Britney Spears, or whoever it is, is it difficult to not get caught up? I imagine there’s some notes. I’m hoping Bono just ate it for the joy of eating your food versus, “I can’t have this. I can’t have this. I can’t do this.” How difficult is it to just stay focused on the food, like Art Smith said? Simplicity. Just stick with that.

Beau MacMillan: Such a great question. Not to let my ADD take over, but U2! Bono was one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever cooked for in my life. He’s hands-down one of the coolest dudes. The band was amazing. But I think when you have your role and you have what you’re doing, and those things that bring that together, you just want to perform at the highest level.

Kirk, I really truly believe I’ve been blessed. I’ve cooked for Jay-Z and Beyonce. I’ve cooked for U2. These are just people that have come through because of the beautiful resort I had the opportunity to work in and all this stuff. When you look back at it, it’s no different than if I was cooking for my cousin’s wife, who I’ve never met before. When you approach your dishes, you know as a chef, you’re as good as your last dish. Right? That’s it. You’re as good as your plate that came out of the window.

The other side of what is the team and everybody. You might have 50 culinarians in your kitchen, and your reputation’s in saute pans of people you’ve got to believe in and trust in.

My approach to the simplicity side of life is: Putting food together that can reach people has always garnered the best results. Two days ago, I watched Netflix’s episode on Chris Bianco. I’m a 51-year-old guy crying, just watching Chris’s story and understanding how much time that man put in. Never knowing where his life was going to go, but cooking every single pizza that went in. He said the most brilliant thing. “It’s crazy.” Excuse my French, but his philosophy was, “Blank in, blank out.” That’s not good product and that word, if you put that in your oven, expect to get that out of your oven. So start with the best ingredients and pull that out.

What I find in food is everything I know I’ve been taught. I may have manipulated something. I may have made something better. I may have made it worse. That’s an opinion. That’s someone else’s opinion. But at the end of the day, when I taste something and it’s the best I ever had, you know what I do? I don’t change it, because it’s the human mind that’s going to screw it up. I try not to screw it up. I try to take beautiful ingredients and balance them. Harmony. Contrast. Color. All of those things, but I do not try to overdo it and make a mistake. At the end of the day, my three-year-old twins will tell me, “Dad, you burned the hot dog.” Or, “This isn’t right.” That’s the beauty: we’re born with these God’s gifts. Everybody has that element. We’re born with them all. It’s being able to get in touch with them and hold onto them that is what makes you stand out, if that makes any sense.

Kirk Bachmann: Bringing it back to the twins and their expectations of Dad’s preparation of the hot dogs. It level-sets everything.

By the way, Chris’s episode, I’ve probably watched it two or three times as well. Unbelievable.

Beau MacMillan: I’ve known Chris for a long time. Seeing what he’s done. Just for the food. The guy was selling mozzarella door-to-door. Then he’s making the best pizza in the world, I can tell you. That’s the one thing that I loved about this business. For all the people who are attending the school. Wherever they come from, in the eyes of the ingredient, we are all created equal. You have the ability. You never stop believing in yourself, and you get out there, and you put the time in.

That was the thing I loved about my life. I spent a lot of time cooking. Being a chef, there’s no real glory. I hate to say it. Who wants to grow up and manage people? I don’t want to run numbers and labor and food costs. I don’t want to do any of that! I want to talk smack on the line while I’m cooking saute and put out the best food that I possibly can.

That’s the U2. That’s the Bono and the Edge, and everybody else.

Kirk Bachmann: And still playing, still playing, respecting the craft. I don’t know if I ever told you this, but my father came up through the German ranks. He’s what they call a Meister, a master pastry chef. He’s 85 now and still making strudel. What he’s always said to me is, “Just try to be a good cook for life.” Quote, unquote.

Beau MacMillan: There you go.

Community in the Kitchen and the City

Kirk Bachmann: Just be a good cook for life. Speaking of a good cook, when we talked to Lee. So polite, with the beautiful accent. One of the nicest things that he said about you was that you have this very sincere and intentional willingness to spread the wealth, share the knowledge, and support your fellow chefs in Arizona. How important is it to you that others in your circle are experiencing success at whatever level that is? Not everybody needs to be on television. Success is defined by what’s important. How important is that to you, to keep that culture together? And how do you keep it going? Because one day, you and Lee will chill and you’ll let somebody else do it. Have you built a nice foundation, do you think, for the Scottsdale area?

Beau MacMillan: Yeah! Coming to Scottsdale – I got here in 1998. I had one job for 23 years, and I worked for an incredibly kind and giving, wealthy person that gave me what I thought was one of the greatest stages in the country to work on. I never took that for granted for a minute.

Even from where I grew up, I’ve spent more time in Arizona than anywhere else I’ve lived in my life. I married my beautiful wife here. We have five children here. This town has supported me hugely. Obviously, some of the accolades I had, I wanted to showcase…I watched this town grow up. I watched young chefs leave resorts for name chefs, and then open their own spots.

I look at this community in Scottsdale and think, “Man, you can go out to eat 365 days a year here and have amazing food.” We may not get enough street cred as the New Yorks. We’re a young city. We’re young. Maybe we are trending a little behind the 8-ball, but I’m telling you, we have an unbelievable cocktail movement in this town. We have unbelievable chefs in this town.

I was so grateful. The number one reason we have this is our community is so diverse. It comes in from so many other places: Chicago, Boston, Seattle. We have it all. Watching this all grow up. They love food! And they support us. We have an unbelievable community.

I looked at it and said, “How can I be one of those guys?” Like I said, I’ve never been self-serving. I’m nothing without my squad. I learned that early. There’s no one due. I’ve never put a name on my menu, “Chef Beau MacMillan’s Restaurant” or whatever. I can’t do that. It takes dishwashers. I have guys that have been with me at Sanctuary 16, 17 years on hourly payroll. But we value them and love them and we’re family, do anything for each other. That was my whole mantra. To have that stuff, I want to see others be successful.

It’s wonderful to win something, Kirk. You win a competition. I’m sure you’ve done a ton and also mentored guys that have done that. I go out and battle one-on-one and I win. That’s wonderful. Win with 50 guys or ten or five in your crew? That’s a whole other win. That’s a group win. That’s a team win. I think it means more. That’s really the way I try to pride myself. I say, “Where would I be without the people who have helped me in my life?” I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I’m not a young guy. I’m comfortable with who I am as a chef, in a sense, but I really want to be able to help young people.

Lee was and is one of my closest friends for the last 20 years. He’s one of the most talented dudes on the planet. He not only has a hard role where he has to stay relevant and continue putting food up at the highest level, but he has to continually work with younger people around him that he still has to coach, counsel and give, and be that guy. It takes a ton of respect.

I’m a believer, man. I think that’s one of the things. If you put it out there in the universe and you give, it comes back ten-fold. I started a food and wine festival here called Nirvana Food and Wine, for that reason. I wanted to showcase. I had over 80-100 local chefs that participate. We put national chefs in the mix so they can work with them. It was really to support what happens in our community and expose that.

Kirk Bachmann: Such a great response. Jon-Paul always used to say that no one in Arizona is from Arizona, but everyone that’s there is happy to be there.

Beau MacMillan: No doubt. That’s a true story.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely love that.

I wanted to come back to CALA just a little bit. From what I’ve seen on the website, I think CALA refers to a cove in Spanish.

Beau MacMillan: Yeah!

The Food Just Wants to Be Tasty

Kirk Bachmann: In your words, what is the cuisine of the coastal regions? It sounds so beautiful. You said the word fresh. What is, according to Chef Beau, what is CALA?

Beau MacMillan: First, if I had branded it off of my palate and tongue, it’s a modern coastal American restaurant. It takes its riffs from these great Mediterranean towns from Spain to Portugal. You’re going to see octopus at CALA. Yes. Will you see lamb kofta, a Middle-Eastern flavor? I’m not from Spain. I don’t like the word “authentic” in food. If you were going to say, “Beau, let’s cook authentic,” I would have to say, “Kirk, okay, so here’s my clam chowder. Here’s my Ipswich clams. Here’s my Sunday pot roast. I’m a Maynard and Massachusetts kid. I’m a New Englander. That’s authentic to me.”

I don’t want to be limited either. Even at Elements, we really branded our food from farm fresh American fare with Asian accents, but I still had a tomato mozzarella plate. Buffalo mozzarella. I saw served. I had to. The tomatoes were amazing.

We look at this beautiful place and we say, “We’ve got this great modern coastal vibe, beach house-esque, Tolum, Spain. Any cove in the Mediterranean. Let’s just tap in and take things and put our American ingredients and our flavor-print. I have saganaki on my menu, flaming Kasseri cheese with Greek brandy and olives, and fresh focaccia bread. Talk about approachable! But it’s one of my bestsellers on the menu. I have lamb koftas that we do with dill tzatziki, and we serve them on sugar cane sticks and grill them. Those type of dishes, but I still have a beautiful tuna tartare with pistachio and Calabrian chili vinaigrette. It’s simple, but using ingredients from around the world and trying to put a balanced plate, a balanced dish in front of guests that is colorful and delicious and tasty. At the end of the day, it doesn’t want to be wrong. It just wants to be tasty.

Kirk Bachmann: I’m going to ask you the same question. I was in New York one time, and Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert were up on the stage. Somebody raised their hand and said, “Who cooks in the restaurant when you’re not there?” And they both kind of giggled and Ripert responded by saying, “Well, the same people cook when I am there.”

Beau MacMillan: It’s true.

Kirk Bachmann: Heard. I’m curious, with as busy as you are, are there still those moments where it’s getting toward the end of the night, you put on a clean apron. Do you still love walking out in the dining room and just saying, “Hey. How’d you enjoy the food?”

Beau MacMillan: Yeah! 100 percent. I think that’s what’s crazy about it is I think, like everything else, I think chef’s graduate. I was the strongest cook in my life – the strongest, I believe, between the ages of 19 and 28. That’s when my cooking was so honed and so dialed in.

Then, I took my first sous chef job. I was horrible. I had to manage. I had to lead. I had to take direction. I had to give feedback back. I had to account for all this stuff, and it took me a while to get it. Plus, I worked. A sous chef’s job, you’ve got to make the chef look good. You’ve got to work harder. All of these roles. I put my time in there. I would run the boards with 500 covers. I could expo. It’s a symphony and you’re a conductor.

Now I get on the expo board for a half an hour and my head’s spinning. “I need off! I need a cold beer and to go say Hi to somebody in the dining room.”

When you have that type of home and that type of stuff, and I was always grateful for it. Maybe we did have a really great chicken dish at the restaurant, but people were coming because they wanted to connect. “How’s Beau doing?” It’s about Beau’s house. That’s what it is. It’s open up your home and check in with your guests. I got lucky. 23 years. I really knew my market and I based my food on what they wanted. It was all wins on what they wanted. I never created a menu that I was like, “They’re going to like this.” I would read all my press, good and bad, and cry on the way home if someone was like, “The dish was mediocre.” It hurt me.

Kirk Bachmann: Taking it personally.

Beau MacMillan: Yeah. You want to provide. You want to make sure you’re pleasing people.

Long story short, we would always fix it if it was a pattern of something that just didn’t click. Things when people would say, “Beau, that’s the best. Those are the best oysters I’ve ever had in my life.” I was like, “Okay, no need to change.” I got that repeatedly. It becomes a blue chip staple. That’s really how we did it.

To the point, bringing it back, what’s funny is, yes, I love going out into the dining room and I’m blessed I can do that. My chef has worked for me for the past seven years. I hired a young gentleman when he was 16, 17 years old named Peter McQuaid that was coming in through a C-Cap program, a Careers through Culinary Arts Program. He started staging in my kitchen. I’ve worked with this, that. He’s 24 years old, and he’s opened up two restaurants for me in the last two years, and runs my kitchen. At 24, if I had what he has, it just blows my mind. The sense of pride.

The other people that I work with as well. My pastry chef, Gabby, that came with me and Sisco who ran Money, Baby! for me, and Bobby, who’s been with me 17 years. Man, if you don’t have that type of support and family, if you don’t value that, they’re the stars. To me, I look at it and go, my life now is trying to help Peter, Gabby, Sisco, and my guys achieve every personal attribute and success they want. That’s really what it should be. I have to give it back.

Chef Beau MacMillan’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: I just absolutely adore the humility. You are giving it back.

Man, I could listen to you all day long. I wish I had a code to pass over to you.

Hey, Chef, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. I have to always ask this question. It can be many things, but if you had to share, what is the ultimate dish?

Beau MacMillan: Wow! The ultimate dish. First of all, I love that show. I love that title. I think it’s amazing, and I may answer it differently than anybody else. The ultimate dish, for me, is a dish that when you taste it, smell it, when you see it, it transcends you back to your soul. Back to a human emotion. It could be a lobster roll on the coast of Maine with seagulls flying in to sweep down and steal your french fries. But the ultimate dish is just close your eyes and let it take you somewhere. Be reminded. Maybe it’s that sentimental value. It’s the overall perfect balance of textures and flavor coming together. To me that’s the ultimate dish.

Kirk Bachmann: And no one has answered it like that. Brilliant answer. Reminded me of the one scene at the end of “Ratatouille” when the critic tasted the ratatouille and it took him back. Absolutely brilliant.

Chef, thank you so much. I’ll give JP a big high five and big thanks for connecting us. You have just been all that was advertised. Just amazing. Best of luck to you. I think there’s a lot more on the table. I hope you come back and we chat maybe once when you’re in the restaurant, with the backdrop. I’d love to see it in action.

Beau MacMillan: Any time. Any time, Kirk. I loved it, man. Come visit me in the desert.

Kirk Bachmann: We will. Absolutely. I appreciate it so much.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

Recent Podcasts