Interview with Chef Jeff Smedstad of Elote Café in Sedona
Anytime we ask for Sedona restaurant recommendations, we always hear, ‘You must go to Elote Café!’ The restaurant serves up award-winning Mexican cuisine, product of Chef Jeff Smedstad and an inspiration of this travels to Mexico. The café has become a tourist attraction in the Red Rock City, but also a popular spot among Sedona-locals. Chef Jeff spent more than 20 years traveling through Mexico, learning the intricacies of authentic Mexican cooking as well as the country’s culture and traditions.
You may have read our write-up on “The Elote Café Cookbook” – several dishes inspired from his journeys are sprinkled throughout the book (as well as café favorites).
Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Chef Jeff and learn more about his background.
PhoenixBites Interview with Chef Jeff Smedstad
Amy Martin: Can you tell us a bit about your background and training and how you came to open Elote Café?
Chef Jeff Smedstad: I started cooking on a desert island in the coast guard, and cooked through most of the recipes in the James Beard cookbook–I didn’t know who he was at the time and the book was a gift, but I knew they liked it better than the government recipes. I went to Scottsdale Culinary School, and then met a girl in Mexico, thus began my love of Mexican food among other things. I spent time in Oaxaca cooking with Susana Trilling and many other ladies on their ranches. I’ve been going to Mexico often for over 20 years.
Amy: When creating new dishes for the menu, where do you find inspiration?
Chef Jeff: I start with the classic flavors and combinations of Mexico, and let my life sort of come into play- my travels, flavors I love and things like that. I just try to make good food. I also am a proponent of local food, if only for the sake of freshness. So, when we get things from Camp Verde, we incorporate it into the food if it can make it better.
Amy: We love how you put a unique spin on traditional Mexican dishes. Describe your take on Mexican cuisine.
Chef Jeff: I see Mexican food as bright and sometimes bold, but also balanced and complex. I treat it with the respect it deserves.
Amy: Which dishes at Elote would you consider ‘must orders’ for a first-timer?
Chef Jeff: Order the Elote as an appetizer, the Lamb Adobo as the main course and then the Pastel de Elote for dessert. Also, have a margarita beforehand and a local beer or wine with dinner.
Amy: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing right now?
Chef Jeff: I would be Keith Richards’ stunt double.
Amy: If you could have an unlimited supply of any ingredient, always fresh/in season, which would it be?
Chef Jeff: Corn, corn, and more corn.
Amy: Other than your own, do you have any favorite restaurants in Sedona or Phoenix?
Chef Jeff: Up north, I love Amanda Stine’s food at Garland’s. There’s so many in Phoenix, but to name a few, I enjoy St. Francis, Noca, Renegade, and FnB.
Amy: The Elote Café cookbook is quite impressive (and packed full of drool-worthy photos!). How long did it take you to compile all of the recipes? Was it difficult to pick and choose which recipes would be included and left out?
Chef Jeff: It took years until I met my editor Carol Haralson (who is a genius) and she guided me to the finish. As for cutting recipes, it was hard to make the final selections, but you just need to finish.
Amy: Any plans for a second cookbook?
Chef Jeff: My editor, Carol Haralson, and I have been working on something for a few months now.
Amy: On a usual night off, where can you be found when you’re not in the kitchen?
Chef Jeff: In my backyard drinking homemade beer and cider, listening to Exile on Main St.
Amy: If you could orchestrate your last meal, what would it consist of and where would it be?
Chef Jeff: I would want a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich with some Firestone Walker Pale Ale and Partida Silver Tequila. The tomato would have to be special; the mayo and bread not as important.
For more information about Elote Café or the cookbook, visit elotecafe.com.
Elote Café | 771 Highway 179 | Sedona, AZ | 928-203-0105 | elotecafe.com