Chef Christopher Gross Looks Ahead
The Arizona favorite begins the next chapter of his storied culinary career.
By Christina Barrueta | Photography by Garrett Cook
Chef Christopher Gross sits behind his desk in his office at Wrigley Mansion in a room that’s a microcosm of his life and career. On his computer is a recipe for his guest appearance at the upcoming New York Food & Wine Festival in New York City. Behind him are photos of longtime partner and Wrigley owner, Jamie Hormel, and in front of him are blueprints for a chef’s kitchen. Across the room on a flip chart easel are renderings for a new restaurant at the Phoenix airport, and along the walls bookshelves are filled with art and food tomes and mementos of events with fellow renowned chefs.
In 1995, Gross was named a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. Since then, the James Beard-honored “Best Chef: Southwest” has only added to his many accolades. Over the years, he has won the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame, and has gone on to open—and recently close—his much-celebrated eatery, Christopher’s & Crush Lounge in Biltmore Fashion Park, which he helmed for 21 years. In between, he’s been recognized by numerous national publications, including Food & Wine Magazine and Esquire, as well as by the Chicago Tribune.
But receiving these distinguished endorse-ments doesn’t mean he’s resting on his laurels. In fact, Gross is embarking on what may be his most ambitious undertaking yet, simultaneously working on three eateries. Christopher’s at Sky Harbor International Airport, is slated to open in November, as well as two projects at Wrigley Mansion: revamping the existing Geordie’s and introducing Christopher’s at The Wrigley.
Having already been involved in some of Wrigley Mansion’s operations with business partner Paola Embry, centering his dining empire in the historic home in Central Phoenix is a choice that made sense. “We decided to come up here and redo the menu at Geordie’s,” Gross says.
For Embry, CEO and wine director for the mansion, the move has been “an incredibly exciting transition,” she says. “Having the elements of history, the ambience with amazing views, the food and a wine program—it’s a dream come true.”
Standing at a vantage point that overlooks the bustling construction site of a new kitchen, Gross points out the myriad changes. Anchored by a custom commercial range, it features a raised roof, extended walls and reconfigured stairs and workspaces for efficiency. A large window has been added that overlooks the surrounding mountains. “There will be a round table and a beautiful chandelier in front of it so that parties of up to 10 can dine in the kitchen,” the chef notes.
These renovations pave the way for Geordie’s updated menu—“French technique-influenced and seasonal,” Gross says—as well as the debut of Christopher’s at The Wrigley, which promises to offer dramatic dining experience. Designed by famed Valley architect Wendell Burnette, Christopher’s will be built on the site of Camelview Terrace, adjacent to the front entrance with stunning views of Camelback Mountain and the Papago buttes. It’s expected to open in late 2019.
“The idea of the new Christopher’s is a transparent pavilion that floats within a garden, with interior finishes that merge with the night sky,” notes Burnette. Gross adds, “It’s going to be a unique work of art, with glass walls, cantilevered and elevated three feet above the patio with city views.”
Seating only 26 people nightly, the res-taurant will feature a hearth-driven tasting menu filled with elegant yet whimsical dishes served by the cooks. Gross drew inspiration from his travels: kitchen-delivered dishes at Scratch in Encino, California; clever tableware at Guy Savoy in Paris; tables with individual cutlery drawers at Relae in Copenhagen.
With his latest venture, perhaps Gross is coming full circle. “You could say it’s a resurgence in a way of my first restaurants, Christopher’s and Christopher’s Bistro,” he reflects. “The bistro was small and upscale, and Christopher’s was posh. Here we’ll also have two levels of dining. Geordie’s can seat up to 100 people with an accessible, affordable menu; Christopher’s will be much more exclusive and high-end.”
It’s a concept he is eager to share with his guests. “I want the new restaurant to offer exquisite dining that will match that found in any major city in the world. This should be a destination for anyone who comes into town—whether they want to book a private party or an event, or are simply looking for a romantic dinner with a beautiful view. We are really going to make the Wrigley shine.”
White Fish with Tomato Mousse and Root Vegetables
Chef Gross shares how versatile the tomato tea component is in this healthy dish, which can be found on the menu at his restaurant Geordie’s at Wrigley Mansion. “I’ve been doing the recipe for years,” he says. “The idea for the process was something I came up with when I was 23 years old and working in France.” The tea works well with poached chicken or seasonal vegetables for a vegetarian dish. You can also “serve it by itself—hot or cold—or make a martini with it with vodka,” he adds.
1 pound white fish fillets (halibut, cod, etc.)
4 tablespoons shallots, finely minced
6 large, ripe tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1⁄2 cup fresh herbs (chervil, tarragon, basil, etc.), finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
6 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 ruby beet
2 black salsify
Cut fish fillets into four 4-ounce portions. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.
Using a blender, puree tomatoes and garlic to extract their juice. Pour juice into a saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat until it reduces by half and becomes a broth. As the broth, which becomes the tomato tea, is reducing, use a spoon to gently remove the red tomato mousse that is forming at the top and reserve. Rest mousse on a coffee filter to help remove additional liquid. Using a soup spoon, form quenelles from the mousse for garnish.
In a sauté pan, poach fish in olive oil and shallots over low heat, covered, until it reaches desired doneness.
Using a mandoline, thinly slice all root vegetables, then toss them in a bowl with a teaspoon of olive oil. Heat a large pan on high. Once pan is very hot, add root vegetables and flash sear them for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place a fish fillet and ¼ of the root vegetable mixture into a shallow bowl. Pour tomato tea on top until it creates a pool around the fish. Garnish with mousse quenelles, fresh herbs and cactus teardrops.
Chef Gross makes the cactus teardrops pictured in this recipe by pureeing seasoned “nopales” (cactus paddles) and straining them through a fine-meshed sieve. He then adds gelatin and pours the mixture into silicone molds, refrigerating until firm. “Guests wonder what they are, but as soon as they taste them, they know they’re cactus,” he says. Gross’ inspiration came when he was asked to represent the Grand Canyon State at the USA Today Wine & Food Experience in New York City, hosted by Martha Stewart. “I wanted to showcase the nopales differently than simply sautéing the cactus, so I decided to go the savory jellies route. I hope I did Arizona proud.”