Jeff Smedstad joined the Coast Guard at 17 (and got cook's training); cooked in Scottsdale, Ariz.; traveled Mexico and studied cooking with Susana Trilling in Oaxaca; and was a chef at an Atlanta restaurant when a friend called from Sedona, Ariz. "He said he'd found my new home."
When Smedstad walked into the small space (75 seats, no reservations) in the King's Ransom Hotel, "I handed (the friend) a blank check and said I'll be back in a month (and) sketched out the logo in the parking lot a few minutes later," he said. "It's a weird room, man, to be honest with you. We're in an old, funky hotel. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We look out at what nature and God set down around us. It's freaking amazing. The whole front of the restaurant is glass. And then in front of that is a patio. And in front of that is Red Rocks."
Q: How did your menu come about?
A: When I got out here, I discovered the wine country five minutes from Sedona. So, I'm drinking these Rhone-style reds in the middle of the desert by a creek. Over time I found other farmers and farmers markets. Now I've got guys growing me chilies and corn and tomatoes and bringing them to my back door while they're still warm from the sun. That's a chef's dream — at least this chef's dream.
Q: The Elote Cafe's most popular dish?
A: I've been doing my lamb adobo dish for over 16 years, but we sell more corn than anything else in this restaurant, as unfashionable as that is. ("The Elote Cafe Cookbook," by Smedstad ($29.95) can give you more menu ideas.)
Q: What else should I visit in the region?
A: You're going to go to Red Rock Crossing; it's absolutely beautiful right on Oak Creek. Spend some time over in Page Springs. The Page Springs winery is out there. … Then go up to Jerome, which is an old ghost town. Go to the Spirit Room in the old Connor Hotel, and there's usually some live music and some live bikers.
Makes: 4 to 6 appetizer servings
Adapted from "The Elote Cafe Cookbook"
Roast 6 ears of corn, with husks intact, over a medium hot grill until husks are well charred, about 5 minutes. Turn occasionally so as not to burn the side in contact with direct heat. Set roasted ears aside until cool enough to handle, then shuck and cut kernels from cobs.
Mix 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon Cholula-brand hot sauce, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 1 teaspoon each: kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and sugar, plus 1/4 cup chicken stock in a skillet over medium heat. Add corn kernels and warm through. Pour into serving bowl; garnish with 1/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro and pinch of ground red chili. Serve immediately with crisp tortillas for dipping.
Elote Cafe, 928-203-0105, elotecafe.com