Stroll through the pecan groves at the Farm at South Mountain, and follow the path to Quiessence, an elegant restaurant set among mature trees, potted plants and garlands of soft white lights. On any given night as you meander toward the entrance, Chef Dustin Christofolo will be cutting fresh herbs that he grew and harvested from seedlings, or you might find him in Maya’s Garden at the Farm requesting a pound of arugula for the evening meal. Either way, you know that what’s on the menu will be up-to-the-minute fresh. “We really take it seriously as far as the local and seasonal direction and that’s what helps us create the menu,” says Chef Dustin. “We just want to give an experience of Arizona flavor and if it’s not coming from the property, it’s coming from McClendon Farms or Two Wash Ranch and their poultry. It’s about having a connection with all the farmers and the ranchers available in Arizona.”
For Chef Dustin, the connection with local growers has deepened over the 10 years he has shared his talents with Quiessence, first as sommelier and head of the front of house, and then as executive chef, a position he assumed three years ago.
“The restaurant as far as the concept really has not changed,” says Chef Dustin. “There’s always been that slow-food concept in mind.”
To create the Quiessence menu, Chef Dustin and his kitchen crew look at the availability list provided by local farmers and create fresh, innovative dishes based on produce that is in peak season.
One of his signature starter dishes, Maya’s Forrest Garden, is a daily offering of what Maya currently has available. The dish is a simple, elegant presentation of beet puree, citrus, salsa verde, baby carrots, turnips, radishes, kale chips, rainbow chard and a mustard green called mizuna.
Another popular appetizer is the Sicilian Cauliflower with Grilled Lamb Heart.
“Cauliflower’s in season right now,” says Chef Dustin. “We get whole lambs about a mile down the road. What goes into that is pickled shallots, pine nuts, golden raisins, honey gastrique and bronze fennel frawn that we’re growing right now. The amount of anise and black licorice and fennel flavor that you get from it is amazing.”
Chef Dustin’s signature main dish, Guinea Hen Roulade, is served with crimson lentils, deconstructed gremolata, yu choy sum and compari tomatoes. He enjoys pairing Quiessence dishes with a wide range of Arizona keg wines, and the occasional French or Italian bottle.
Haute cuisine, yes. Elitist? A resounding no.
“Here at Quiessence because we are fine dining we take our dishes very seriously so we put a lot of effort into it, but at the same time we want to give an unpretentious environment,” says Chef Dustin. “I feel like our food and the rustic soul of the ambiance of the restaurant kind of matches up. It’s refined but it’s not too pretentious.”
6106 S. 32nd Street