Interview with Executive Chef Eric Finney of Arizona Grand Resort
We’ve shared a couple of his recipes in our “14 days of recipes for Valentine’s Day” roundup, but now it’s time to meet the man behind the food and drink! Eric Finney, Arizona Grand Resort’s Executive Chef, first joined the resort in 2009. Responsible for managing a 100+ staff and supervising the banquet kitchen as well as the resort’s five dining options, it’s easy to say that Chef Eric keeps himself busy. Having more than 12 years of culinary experience under his belt, his resume boasts positions at fine dining restaurants in luxury hotels across the country. Notably, he’s organized and overseen special dinners for President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, John Elway and Muhammad Ali (impressive, huh?) and supervised the catering efforts for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Meet Chef Eric Finney:
Amy Martin: Can you tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to the Arizona Grand Resort?
Chef Eric Finney: My career has been spent at high-volume luxury hotels in close proximity to ski resorts, including the Resort at Squaw Creek in Squaw Valley, California; Omni Interlocken Resort and Golf Club in Denver, Colorado; and Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. I moved to Phoenix to escape the cold, be around palm trees and join the amazing team at the Arizona Grand Resort, and to position myself at a large Phoenix Resort with multiple food and beverage outlets.
Amy: Can you describe a typical ‘day on the job?’
Chef Eric: It’s really constant menu development for our catering operation, communication with our vendors, employee relations, and checking in with all nine sous chefs. I try to be available for a part of each meal period in our Lobby Grill, and lots of meetings and deadlines.
Amy: Where do you look for inspiration as you create new dishes for the menu?
Chef Eric: Inspiration comes from everywhere… remembering something from a cookbook and coming up with a new take on it, knowing what is in season at the time, or a new spin on a dish I might have learned from a former chef. I love to do sauce work and come up with new twist on classic sauces. Chimichurri hollandaise and Pineapple Chili Beurre Blanc are favorites.
Amy: What keeps you motivated?
Chef Eric: Positive feedback from our guests is what keeps me coming back for more. Knowing that we made a positive impact and lasting memories for our guests is what keeps me motivated.
Amy: If you could have unlimited supply of any ingredient (produce, protein, spice, etc.), which would it be?
Chef Eric: High-end sushi grade ahi tuna. The possibilities are endless and I love to create with it.
Amy: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing right now?
Chef Eric: Wow, that’s a tough question. I have no idea. My wife says I would have made a good lawyer. Apparently I argue pretty well, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Amy: We heard you catered the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics… that must’ve been a fun gig! What did you prepare?
Chef Eric: That list would be a whole other article! We did more than 5,000 covers (meals) for 18 days in a row. Total of 90,000 covers. We catered to corporate sponsors for the games, like Merrill Lynch, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and NBC to name a few. Among a number of very high-end events and lots of cuisines spanning the globe, I recall producing over 20,000 ‘pigs in a blanket’ for NBC.
Amy: I love your idea of creating a monthly recipe calendar focusing on seasonal ingredients. What inspired you to create the calendar series?
Chef Eric: We wanted to help let people know that every month there is an ingredient at peak or an event that can be celebrated with great food.
Amy: Which season offers your favorite flavors?
Chef Eric: With such a small window of relatively cool weather, I find myself lately taking advantage of the “winter” months to make stews and braises and hearty soups. But I also love when it gets really hot in the summer months and out of necessity we are forced to cook lighter and focus on brighter, fresher flavors.
Amy: Favorite comfort food?
Chef Eric: Baked homemade mac and cheese, hands down! At home we will elevate it and top it with sliced tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and herb breadcrumbs and the bake until the top becomes crispy. My wife and I fight over the topping!
Amy: 5 ingredients that are always in your home kitchen/pantry?
Chef Eric: High-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar. My daughter will not eat bread without these two items. Franks Red Hot Sauce (I’m addicted). Assorted mustards, and we always have fresh vegetables and greens in the fridge. We try to persuade our kids to eat vegetables every night with dinner.
Amy: Most adventurous food you’ve ever eaten?
Chef Eric: Braised buffalo tongue; it is like the best pot roast your mom never made.
Amy: Any favorite local restaurants?
Chef Eric: Los Sombreros in Scottsdale was a revelation for me. Small menu, innovative take on Mexican food and very deceiving in its simplicity.
Amy: Music…what are you listening to most right now?
Chef Eric: Lots of Americana: alternative country, Uncle Tupelo, Lucero and Chuck Ragan.
Learn more about him and the Arizona Grand Resort by visiting arizonagrandresort.com.
Interview by Amy Martin, PhoenixBites Editor in Chief