When you think of the Arizona food scene, Michelin-awarded chefs don’t usually spring to mind. In fact, with all the culinary stars out here, does a Michelin-awarded chef even matter? Are there even chefs in Arizona with Michelin stars?
Well, in case you didn’t realize, we do have one. He has not only been awarded the exalted prize once, but twice, and you can also throw a James Beard award in there for good measure.
Who is this culinary icon?
He is legendary Chef Alessandro “Alex” Stratta.
Each day he’s here, right in our own backyard at the FOUND:RE Hotel’s Match Restaurant & Lounge, doing what he does best—cooking.
Potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms and parmigiano
Long-standing residents and global food adventurers may remember him from some of Steve Wynn’s Hotels in Las Vegas including, ALEX or Stratta, cum-Renoir, and of course back here cum-Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician.
Stratta is a fourth-generation hotelier born to parents from locales well known for their culinary traditions. His Italian father is from the Piedmont region and his French mother hails from Nice along the Côte d’Azur. As his father was president of Princess Hotels & Resorts, he spent much of his early life living in luxurious resorts in countries all over the world, including Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, France, Mexico, and Pakistan. This upbringing helped him become fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and English.
Stratta is a fourth-generation hotelier born to parents from locales well known for their culinary traditions.
It’s hardly a surprise, then, that he was destined to culinary greatness. Stratta attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and graduated with honors in 1983. He began his career as a patisserie-in-training at the Stanford Court Hotel and then accepted an internship at the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco. Soon after, Alain Ducasse invited Stratta to join the team at his Louis XV restaurant there.
Two years later, at Ducasse’s recommendation, Stratta began working for Daniel Boulud at Le Cirque in New York City. He credits both Ducasse and Boulud for heavily influencing his development as both a Michelin star chef and restaurateur.
Maine lobster with spinach agnolotti, asparagus and coral
With such a storybook background as his, having cooked with prominent chefs and cooked for every major luminary, dignitary and diva, it’s nice to hear that he is inspired by people who are genuine in their desire to help others.
“I did a stage [work for free to learn] with him… It was an amazing experience that I took a lot from and will never forget,” remembers AZ’s own brilliant “gour-mind” Kevin Binkley. “He and his staff were incredibly gracious and willing to share everything with me.”
Chef/Restaurateur Scott Conant, who recently opened the popular Italian restaurant Mora in Phoenix, has worked with Stratta in the past. “He’s a great teacher. I’ve witnessed him elevating young cooks and making them better and more focused,” he says. “He’s a world-class chef and has the abilities to operate among the best restaurants in the world. And has done exactly that.”
Roasted sea bass with artichokes and confit tomatoes
Stratta’s food, like his personality, is meticulous, polished, authentic, sincere, and comforting. His pursuit of perfection can be daunting to others in his kitchen and to himself. It takes a toll.
Our own pizza demigod, Chris Bianco, knows all about being a slave to your art. (He recently took a sabbatical for health reasons due to the pressures of the kitchen.)
“Alex and I go way back… and he is and always has been someone that was tethered to the art of his craft. Much of his journey has taken him to the higher end or the finer side of the dining spectrum. He has the ability to insert a sense of comfort, accessibility, and appropriation whether it’s a live fire and a whole fish on a beach, or a gleaming stainless village of French tops and tall white hats,” exalts Bianco.
Stratta’s food, like his personality, is meticulous, polished, authentic, sincere, and comforting.
Although culinary creativity has always been celebrated the business of restaurants is evolving, with people’s taste for fine dining diminishing. Where does that leave Stratta?
“My opinion on the food scene is that, although most vocal and attentive, the segment of our patrons considered ‘foodies’ are proportionally outnumbered by guests who seek familiar and basic menu choices,” says Stratta. “I believe restaurants survive from their focus on guests’ needs rather than on our desire to challenge them with the unfamiliar or provocative.”
We’ll take his undoubtedly delicious humble offerings any day.