Star chef leaving Phoenix for fresh fields of Sonoita

Farm-to-table advocate is pulling up stakes to open destination restaurant in wine country
2013-05-22T00:00:00Z Star chef leaving Phoenix for fresh fields of SonoitaCathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Phoenix chef Greg LaPrad is heading to Sonoita to open a restaurant that he hopes will help make the tiny town of 800 a destination for foodies.

LaPrad, one of Arizona's leading advocates of farm to table, is leaving his twin restaurants Quiessence and Morning Glory Café at Phoenix's Farm at South Mountain in June. Quiessence will serve its last dinner on June 15, and Morning Glory will close at the end of business June 16, LaPrad said during a phone interview.

"I've been scouting out the farmers markets in Tucson and talking to the local growers, and there is so much happening in Southern Arizona agriculturally," LaPrad said. "I am excited to be able to bring that to Sonoita."

LaPrad doesn't have a name yet for his Sonoita eatery, which will occupy the former Karen's Wine Country Cafe on Arizona 82. He said he will spend the summer renovating the 2,300-square-foot restaurant and hopes to open in August.

Karen's was owned by the mother of noted Sonoita vintner Kent Callaghan, who said Sonoita needs an innovator like LaPrad to shake up the limited dining scene.

Quiessence is known for its wine dinner series that shines the spotlight on Arizona wines; Callaghan Vineyards was featured last week.

"Greg's place is a singular place. The food we had last night was probably some of the best food I've ever had," Callaghan said the morning after that dinner. "It was killer, man. Unbelievable. ... I don't think you can overstate the importance of having a great restaurant here, and I think that is what Greg wants to do."

LaPrad, 31, has been a fixture in Phoenix since he bought Quiessence and the sister restaurant Morning Glory Café eight years ago. Before that, the Connecticut native and graduate of Rhode Island's Johnson & Wales University in Providence cooked with renowned Phoenix chef Michael DeMaria at Michael's At the Citadel.

Phoenix critics have mostly praised LaPrad's creativity and devotion to hyperlocal. The Arizona Republic in 2008 said LaPrad "does fabulous, painstaking work. More important, he knows when to get out of the way and let the food speak for itself. That's a talent only the best chefs possess." Food blogger John Mariani opined, "Many restaurants now claim the (farm to table) phrase, but few do so with this kind of honest conviction."

LaPrad said the Sonoita menu is a work in progress, although he said he will follow the core Quiessence philosophy of hyperlocal. Most of the produce he uses at Quiessence is grown on the 12-acre working Farm at South Mountain, and he gets most of his meats from Phoenix-area ranches.

"I'm trying to create a restaurant that very much speaks to Arizona," he said. "I'm certainly not going to be doing traditional Mexican street food ... nor Tex-Mex. I'm trying to do something unique to the area that speaks to the ranching community and the cowboy experience ... and create a unique menu that's well-founded in local ingredients."

"It's exciting for me to try to be the first to make something pop there," he added. "In the time that I've been down there meeting people, there are so many people who are looking forward to the restaurant. It's such a different feeling of being one of thousands of restaurants in Phoenix. It's neat to be able to serve a community there and to kind of serve a purpose."

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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