Tucked at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa is a hidden foodie oasis. Activities ranging from a hands-on apiary experience to a six-hour day cooking with the executive chef make it worthy for a full-fledged foodie vacation in one place.
Despite all of the food-focused possibilities, the 400-acre Miraval isn’t widely known as a food destination. Luxury accommodations such as incredibly soft bedding and spa services are enough to attract visitors, but Miraval is also home to unique adventurous activities such as ziplining, tightrope walking, and private equine lessons.
Oprah’s visit in 2007 brought national attention attracting celebrities, who regularly post their Miraval selfies on Instagram. It also became one of the Top 12 Destination Spa Resorts in the World according to Condé Nast readers in 2014.
The 120-plus activities available to Miraval guests might seem overwhelming. However, guests with something already in mind will have no trouble finding something exciting.
For a hands-on beekeeping experience in a gorgeous environment, sign up for All The Buzz with Noel Patterson, Miraval’s resident beekeeper. The apiary, which consists of 25 hives, spreads out over a field on the outskirts of the south end of the property at the foot of the Catalinas. A taste of honey straight from the comb that you harvested with your own hands is part of the experience. ($150, two hours)
To focus only on the tasting, sign up for Honey: A Sensual Journey. Patterson’s also a certified sommelier, which surely influenced his wine-like honey tasting. ($40, one hour)
For a behind the scenes tour of Miraval’s main kitchen, sign up for Cocktails in the Kitchen. You’ll receive a chef-created appetizer and cocktail as you learn about Miraval’s food philosophy along with some health cooking tips and tricks. ($45, 45 minutes)
Chef for a Day is a hands-on experience that places guests in a chef’s coat for six hours. The executive chef will be by your side, teaching you the techniques for spa cuisine. Chef coat and knives are provided. ($575, six hours)
If you’re already confident in your cooking and want to throw down the gauntlet, sign up for Ready, Set, Cook! Again, the chef is present as you receive a basket of secret ingredients to whip up a starter or entree. Participants present their plates for final judging. ($200 per person for 2-12 guests, two hours)
Miraval invited Tucson Foodie for a chef’s table experience, also known as Just Cook For Me Chef! The table inside the Miraval kitchen is a popular and desirable attraction, so plan on reserving a spot at least a month in advance. ($150 per person for 3-4 guests, two hours)
Sous chef Kyle Nottingham greeted us at the entrance with glasses of champagne. Nottingham showed us through the kitchen, which was busy yet peaceful. Cooks armed with towels wiped off extraneous sauce on plates, ensuring a pristine presentation. Other cooks cleaned freshly-picked garden herbs and wild mushrooms.
We were seated at an intimate, candle-lit table inside of the kitchen with beekeeper Patterson while Nottingham prepared the night’s dinner.
Locally-baked bread served with roasted strawberry and orange butter awaited us.
The first course, lobster with kimchi, charred scallion, quail egg, and miso butter included lobster briefly cooked sous vide at 63.5 degrees Celsius with vanilla to subtly accent its sweetness and quickly seared on cast iron for a delicate crust. The kimchi, charred scallion, and miso butter packed the dish with umami, while the quail yolk wrapped it all together.
The second course featured Australian Wagyu carpaccio with shaved mushroom, Ossetra caviar, thinly-sliced shallot, and garden herbs. With just the right amount of acidity to highlight the freshness and quality of the ingredients used, the shaved mushroomed complemented the magnificently marbled beef. The caviar accentuated the minerality of the raw beef, while providing a touch of brine and salt to the dish.
Next, programming chef Gabe Nabor had discreetly set up a cocktail station next to the table. The equipment was presented alongside a bowl of crystal-ice blocks and a sheet of Patterson’s honeycomb. After chatting with us about the ingredients and techniques used, Nabor muddled peaches and hand-carved the ice into spheres small enough to fit the glasses. A generous pour of Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskey, followed by a quick shake and finished with honeycomb garnish completed the cocktail portion of the evening.
The third course of blistered strawberry salad with grapes and garden herbs included a Danish blue cheese. Less intense than a Roquefort, the rich, crumbly cheese paired naturally with the fruits.
For the fourth course, Nottingham paired cremini powder-crusted lamb loin with mint leaves and freshly-shucked peas on a bed of tandoori spice yogurt sauce. The Colorado lamb, cooked in a cast iron skillet with minimal temperature gradient, showcased the chef’s attention to detail. Loin being lean, the tender lamb presented no gaminess. Though mint jelly is a classic partner for lamb, the use of mint leaf was a bright, fresh, and subtle addition alongside the peas. The yogurt sauce balanced the lean meat with richness and complexity from the tandoori spice.
The dessert course included foie gras bourbon ice cream with almond crumble, sage, elderberries, and blackberries. Though the ice cream had a cragged appearance, it was luxuriously soft and smooth, likely thanks to the addition of duck fat, the alcohol from the bourbon, and rapid freezing. The sage was an unexpectedly pleasant pairing with the berries, which were naturally sweet and bursting with juice. The almond crumble provided textural contrast along with a toffee-like flavor.
Dessert paired well with the featured Hungarian Tokaji dessert wine. The label showed five puttonyos, making it the second-sweetest and rarest according to the unit used to denote the sugar level for Tokaji wine.
Activities are only available for Miraval guests, meaning the purchase of a day package or night stay is required.
The most affordable way to access the activities is to purchase a day package, which is $199 through September 30, 2016. Day packages include the following amenities:
Activities that require an additional fee also require advanced sign-up. The full schedule is available on Miraval’s website.
To appeal to local residents, Arizona residents looking for a staycation can save 15% off the Miraval Package.
For more information, visit miravalresorts.com.
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Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran’s Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...