Chef Lisa Dahl is credited with bringing fine dining to Sedona about 20 years ago. She now helms a mini restaurant empire, Dahl Restaurant Group, that includes Cucina Rustica, Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill, Dahl & DiLuca and Pisa Lisa.
The self-taught chef grew up in Indianapolis among a boisterous family of four kids that centered around love, fashion and food. “We were eating farm to table back then because that’s where our food came from,” she says, adding that she comes from a long line of talented female home cooks. She “absorbed a love of food” from watching her mother and grandmother effortlessly prepare meals, and her mother inspired Dahl in even more ways.
But her path to restaurateur is not a typical one. As a teenager, she had space in a health-food store where she sold avocado sandwiches and grain salads. And even as a teen, Dahl was pushing boundaries. “I wanted to challenge the whole meat and potatoes mentality of the Midwest,” Dahl says.
Pollo Al Rustica
Despite this culinary pull, she actually pursued fashion first, not cooking. Her mother was a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology and had a string of avant-garde clothing stores in Indianapolis; Dahl decided to follow in her footsteps and had a career in fashion in San Francisco for many years.
And then, a major life blow changed everything for her. Following the tragic death of her then 21-year-old son, she decided to leave San Francisco. That put Lisa Dahl in Sedona, finding comfort through food and by making nourishing soups, but she still embraced her fashion roots with cool chef clothing.
Dahl decided to make food and nourishing others her mission. She and a business partner, Andrea Di Luca, opened Dahl and Di Luca in 1995 in a space formerly occupied by a Pizza Hut. She transformed the interior into an elegant restaurant, and served refined Italian food such as house-made linguini with clams, and grilled Scottish salmon finished in a Limoncello reduction. The success of that restaurant led to her second venture, Cucina Rustica.
Fast forward to today, and Dahl has since bought out her partner and launched two other restaurants: Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill and Pisa Lisa which serves wood-fired pizza. She believes in creating an entire experience for the customer.
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Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill
“If someone feels as if they’ve had a good meal, I’ve missed the mark,” she says. “What I strive for is for customers to say, ‘Oh my gosh that was the best thing I’ve ever tasted.’ I want my guests to leave feeling fulfilled in every way.”
She came up with the design for each of her restaurants and chooses her serving pieces carefully. And, more often than not, she can be found cooking in a designer dress and five-inch heels.
Dahl says she and her staff strive to source the highest quality ingredients, and deliver outstanding service, but the cornerstone is always the food.
“No matter which restaurant my customers chose, they will be eating vibrant, natural and full flavors from nature,” she says. “We let the food shine, and we aim to create dishes that offer a unique spin on favorite meals.”
Given her background in fashion and her contemporary cool chef clothing, Dahl has cast her discerning eye on every aspect of her restaurants, from the architecture to the style of the water glasses. She came up with the design for each of her restaurants and chooses her serving pieces carefully. And, more often than not, she can be found cooking in a designer dress and five-inch heels.
Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill
“I wouldn’t put my food on any old plate!” she says. “You have to present food beautifully, whether it’s a burger, pizza or a grilled fish. If you present food with a twist of originality, you are elevating all the senses.”
Dahl is widely seen as one of the top chefs in Arizona, but she’s also gained fame beyond the Southwest. She has appeared twice at the James Beard House in New York, where she cooked to sold out crowds. Her 2011 cookbook, “The Elixir of Life,” won an IPPY Award and was named the 2011 Cookbook of the Year, and on May 24, she will appear on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” where she’ll go head-to-head on the “Grill Me” episode for a chance to take on the celebrity chef.
Not one to sit on her laurels, Dahl recently announced the opening of the new Butterfly Burger restaurant and plans to open a second Pisa Lisa location in Sedona.
Although Dahl’s restaurants have vastly different menus and décor, what unifies them is her approach to cooking. Her mantra is “When you cook with love, you feed the soul.” And we couldn’t agree more.
Lisa Dahl’s passions include fashion and food; we asked the chic chef for her must-have pieces.
YSL Rouge Pur Couture #52
This is No. 1 in my beauty routine because it is the original color that Yves created for summer coral lipstick lovers like me! It’s so vibrant and looks great day and night.
I have recently become enamored with the jewelry designer Siena who does these black diamond chip-link bracelets and rings that are super cool. They add just enough sparkle and are perfect for layering.
When it comes to chicness with ease, my go-to is my oversized black Valentino bag with gold grommets. It’s versatile and perfect for being constantly on-to-go.
Chanel Diamond Drop Earrings.
If I could wear only one piece of jewelry, it would be my Chanel diamond drops. They are classic, chic and take evening wear to a whole new level.