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Growing up in northern Mexico, Samantha Sanz spent much of her childhood in the kitchen. She remembers fondly her time in and around the family’s restaurant in Nogales, learning to cook and work in a busy atmosphere. The business, owned by her grandparents, has been in operation for over sixty years.
Despite her family’s desire for her to study law, Sanz followed her culinary dreams—after graduating high school, she moved to Scottsdale to attend Le Cordon Bleu. While still in school, she joined the team at elements as one of the restaurant’s first female cooks, working her way up to Cook One. After graduation and following her first stint at Sanctuary, she moved on to Virtù Honest Craft, working under Chef Gio Osso, and later Talavera under Chef Mel Mecinas at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale. After Chef Mecinas’ departure, Chef Samantha took over as Executive Chef at the ripe young age of 28.
With an impressive start and plenty of hard work under her belt, Sanz was nominated as Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Awards. Then, in 2020, Chef Samantha was nominated again, this time as a finalist for Best Chef - Southwest. After five years at the helm of Talavera and two James Beard nominations, Chef Samantha has returned to elements to lead the team in her new role as Chef de Cuisine.
We chatted with Chef Samantha Sanz to learn more about her new role, her food philosophy, and what we can expect to see from her in the near future.
You started your career many years ago at elements; how does it feel to be back in a different role?
It has been surreal to be back at elements as the Chef de Cuisine. Anytime I visited I always felt like the Sanctuary was home. It’s very exciting to have this opportunity–the chance to create, work with the team, and dream big.
You are known for your affinity to include unique and special ingredients. What are some of your favorite ingredients to cook with?
I love to work with fresh produce and herbs, vinegars, olive oil, dried chilies, citrus and unique products from around the world. I like my dishes to not only look good with a lot of color but also burst with a lot of flavor and contrast with textures.
We’re about to enter the spring season, what types of dishes will we find on the spring menu?
I love the spring season, especially in Arizona. The saguaros are in full bloom and there are flowers everywhere. The dishes that we will see in elements menu will have a fresher and lighter approach to match our beautiful landscape—think more vegetable dishes and light fish options.
What is your must-have dish on the elements menu, and why?
My favorite right now is our charred octopus. The octopus is braised in white wine and marinated with citrus zest and juice. Then it’s charred and served with a piquillo pepper romesco and a charred sesame and cardamom sauce. We finish it with escabeche vegetables and marble potatoes. The whole dish is very tasty, the octopus is tender and the two sauces complement each other.
When you’re not in the kitchen or at work, where can we find you?
Springtime is my favorite and the weather is beautiful right now! So you can find me hiking, taking my little Boston Terrier to the park. And just trying new restaurants and bars in Phoenix. I also love to spend time cooking at home.
If you could mentor an up-and-coming chef, what would you tell them?
Hard work, determination and discipline will go a long way. Be ready to sacrifice a lot of time and special events away from friends and family. Try things, don’t be shy to make mistakes. If you are curious to try a new technique or recipe go for it! Never stop asking questions and being curious. Study in your free time. Be patient and believe in yourself.
What are you most excited about for the coming year at elements?
I love creating new menus; it’s my favorite thing to do. I’m excited about attending local events representing elements. I’m looking forward to our team growing and getting stronger. I cannot wait to travel this summer, that’s when I get to eat at different places and source inspiration for new dishes!
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