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Chef Cory Oppold strikes it big with COURSE, an intimate Scottsdale neighborhood restaurant focusing on prix-fixe plates.
It all started with that somewhat regular call to my foodie friend, Elizabeth Drewett. “I’m going to need your help. It’s fine dining time,” I said, and she responded, “We’ll do what we need to do.” And, of COURSE, we did.
COURSE is not a huge place; the signage doesn’t scream it’s there, but upon arrival, the muted-toned interiors with sophisticated finishes say everything. This was going to be an upscale, elegant evening filled with culinary artistry, and this six-month-old restaurant will be the stage for an impressive culinary performance, where food is an art form.
Chef Cory Oppold’s name is newer on the chef scene, but he’s been in the kitchens of the greats: Binkley’s, Tarbell’s, Different Point of View, and Atlas Bistro. He won Food Network’s Chopped in 2019 when he first started imagining what would eventually become COURSE. A pandemic and virtual shut-down of the restaurant industry stalled his plans until he met investors and longtime fans Brett and Christian Pezzuto, who were fully on board with the idea.
Oppold was raised on a dairy farm and grew up in Pearl City, Ill. He was exposed to wholesome, perhaps even plain, foods and had a strong Midwestern work ethic. Loving math and architecture, he moved to Phoenix in 1998 to pursue a career in architecture. About a year later, he dined at Wright’s at the Biltmore and found himself “enthralled,” as he said, by the food. A proverbial light went off in his head, and his reading material went from Architectural Digest to Bon Appetit.
He enrolled in the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and graduated in 2001. He first worked with Ivan Flowers at Different Point of View, who had been trained by Michelin-star chef Alex Stratta, whom Oppold highly regarded. He moved to Sedona to become chef de cuisine at L’Auberge until about 2008, when he took a break to teach at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, where he received his culinary education.
“That’s where I refined what has become my style of food,” Oppold says.
From there, Chef Cory Oppold learned the art of culinary precision from Kevin Binkley, who was his sous chef. His stint at Tarbell’s taught him how to handle larger volumes. As executive chef at Atlas Bistro, he earned a coveted five-star review that launched his name on the national scene. That’s when Food Network spotted him.
Today, at the helm of his own kitchen and culinary concept, Oppold focuses on fine dining as he and his culinary team take you on a food exploration through an explosion of both your taste and visual senses, using seasonal ingredients and a twist on classics and favorites deconstructed or reimagined.
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COURSE offers five- or 10-course prix fixe menus and a brunch experience called Morning Would.
The fine dining experience that Elizabeth and I shared was exquisite, and I am no stranger to the best-tasting menus in the country. This one impressed me. Upon arrival, we were presented with a glass of bubbles before we could even settle into our seats, which let us know that the service tonight would be as exceptional as the food.
The menu changes regularly, and by the time you read this, many of these items will likely have transitioned to the next exciting concept. It was a Tuesday night, so I booked our reservation for the five-course tasting menu. Like kids excited for Christmas, looking at the 10 items on the menu of which we were to pick five…we upgraded to the 10-course, added the yummy wine pairings (booked our Ubers) and requested the truffles.
From there, we paced ourselves to bask in the deliciousness of food as theater. Elizabeth and her architect husband, C.P. Drewett, own Drewett Works, so the architectural nature of the plating and the ever-changing dish design was not lost on her radar. This was by no means our first fine dining girls’ night out, but it was perhaps one of the two best.
Our first bite was Toro with caviar, followed by two clever dishes: a wagyu beef cheek pastrami on pumpernickel with horseradish and what Chef Cory Oppold calls pot pie, a deconstructed version.
Of course, these bites were small but mighty. Then we enjoyed the lobster corn dog, which really showcased Chef Cory Oppold’s playful nature with food. The duck breast was perfectly prepared, and the venison with Brussels sprouts had just three Brussels leaves…so artful.
We finished with several sweet bites, including a pear tatin and mignardise, which are petit fours in the flavors of pumpkin-spiced candy corn, candy apple and carrot macaroon.
As much as the food delighted our palettes, the wine pairings were on point. We could not stop remarking about how amazing the pairings were. We even enjoyed a wine that we agreed before the dinner we’d never drink, which was fantastic with the venison. Congratulations go as well to sommelier Nicholas Padua, who blew our minds.
Oppold brings to Scottsdale a fresh approach, a beautiful setting, a playfulness for creating culinary surprises and well-executed dishes that pack a wonderful punch.
Would we return? But of COURSE!