You might expect to find an exceptional restaurant in Scottsdale, with its profusion of tourists, retirees and golfers. In the remote town of Winslow—surrounded by the sagebrush and cactus of a high desert plateau—it’s much more than a pleasant surprise.
The restaurant is The Turquoise Room, located in the beautifully restored La Posada Hotel. La Posada was a classic railroad hotel lovingly brought back to life by Allan Affeldt and his wife, the painter Tina Mion. One of the centerpieces of their plan was to lure the Los Angeles chef John Sharpe to the desert and have him operate the hotel’s restaurant.
“I was disenchanted with the corporate world, fed up with the rat race,” says Sharpe. “After years of running a restaurant group, you find you’ve become more of a businessman and problem solver than a chef. I woke up one morning and realized I wanted to be a chef again.”
His rebirth occurred in what he calls a “mesmerizing space”—a room with high ceilings and wooden tables, tastefully decorated with pieces of Hopi and Navajo art. Sharpe’s menu at The Turquoise Room changes daily. He is a follower of the Slow Food organization and a strong believer in the locavore movement.
“When I grew up in the south of England, we raised all out own food. Local is truly critical for me. I’ve been very fortunate to develop a network of regional farmers to supply us with most of our ingredients.”
That network is evident in dishes such as Piki Bread with Hopi Hummus. The hummus is made from reservation grown Tepary beans, pit roasted corn and sunflower oil; the Piki bread is made for him by Monique Talemptewa of Second Mesa, an enclave on the Hopi reservation. His native Churro lamb is free range, reared without hormones or antibiotics by shepherd Ron Garnanez. Garnanez’s flock spends the summers grazing in the nearby Carrizo Mountains, protected by dogs, llamas and guanacos. He has also managed to put together an interesting wine list to accompany the menu.
John Sharpe is a chef again. He spends most of his time these days in the kitchen, training his staff and developing new dishes. “I’m all about big flavors,” he says, “which has worked well for me in this location.” Among the things that most delights him is exceeding the expectations of his customers.
“One of the most rewarding part of being here, particularly in the beginning, was watching people who had no idea of what they expected to find.” He smiles. “Despite the press coverage and word of mouth, the overall level of surprise hasn’t diminished.”