BY SALLY J. CLASEN | FEBRUARY 8, 2013 | The Dish
With its laboratory-like name, it’s easy to imagine beaker glasses bubbling over in the kitchen at Alchemy Restaurant and Wine Bar at Copperwynd Resort and Club. But Chef Paul O’Connor’s formula for his AAA Four-Diamond award-winning New American cuisine is more food frolic than gastronomic invention.
His playful twist on traditional concepts incorporates the elements of his bicoastal experiences and passion for the Southwest, where O’Connor has spent the last decade working as an executive chef in some of the Valley’s top restaurants and resorts, including a previous stint as executive chef at Copperwynd from 2003 to 2005. He left to join JW Desert Ridge Resort and Spa and JW Camelback Inn Resort and Spa as executive chef, but returned to Alchemy as chef/co-owner in 2009.
O’Connor goes fresh and local as often as he can for his chef-inspired lunch and dinner selections, sourcing many ingredients in Arizona including beets, sun-dried corn, cilantro, goat cheese, pomegranates, pears, pecans, razzcheeries, tomatoes and carrots to create some of his signature sides and sauces such as pickled root vegetables and wine-and-herb infused jellies.
The result is a hybrid of palatable flavors and textures that appear in seasonal offerings such as pistachio-crusted steel head salmon with goat cheese croquettes, roasted jalapeño burr blanc, tomatillo corn relish, aged New York strip with con fit Yukon gold potatoes, fire roasted tomato jam and pickled green onions, and fall harvest salad with chopped kale, pears, beets, candied Arizona pecans, razzcheeries and white balsamic vinaigrette. The construction of wine pairings for each selection is equally adventurous.
While O’Connor, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, isn’t a chemist he does experiment and pushes culinary expectations to craft original fare and reconstruct old standbys as part of his menu development.
“I like a challenge. I listen to customers and my servers for new ideas,” says the chef of his inspiration. “I also ask for feedback from my wife and kids because they are brutally honest.”
The latter are part of his research team working on a gluten- and nitrate-free pizza dough that he hopes to produce in-house soon.
Just like O’Connor’s food, Alchemy’s aesthetic embraces the magic of nature rather than the trickery of mad science. The contemporary Southwestern chic interior includes hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open onto a wraparound patio with unobstructed and panoramic sunset views of the Sonoran Desert, including Four Peaks and the famed Fountain Hills fountain. Its breathtaking mountain vantage point earned Alchemy Diners’ Choice Award for “Best Ambience and Romantic” and “Scenic View.”
With such lofty accolades, O’Connor seems to have found the perfect reaction to artful fine dining but he prefers that customers see past the elevated perspective.
“My vision is that Alchemy isn’t viewed as just a specialty night-out but an everyday corner stop as well.”