Mel Mecinas was born in 1968 in Yalalag, a village in Oaxaca, Mexico. He is one of five boys, four of who became chefs. His father came to the United States in the early 1980s, and began his career in the food industry washing dishes in Chinese restaurants, but eventually worked his way up to a production cook in California. As a teenager, Mecinas also began washing dishes, but was quickly promoted to prep cook. After three years working at the famous Patina — during which his older brother Maca joined him in the kitchen — Medinas and Maca took jobs at Pinot Bistro. Within two years, the siblings were joined by two more brothers, Honorio and Juan. That made four brothers in one kitchen, which Mecinas describes as “epic.” All four went on to continue their careers in the industry.
Mecinas spent nine years with Patina Group learning the art of French cooking under the wing of renowned chef Joachim Splichal. Through passion, hard work, raw talent, and determination, this self-taught chef is now living the “American dream.” Next year will mark Mecinas’ 20-year career with Four Seasons, where he has graced the kitchens of their Santa Barbara, Beverly Hills, and Scottsdale locations. Mecinas is a hands-on chef with the motto “Work smart – not hard.”
For the menu at his restaurant, Talavera in Scottsdale, Arizona, Mecinas offers a modern take on the classic steakhouse. He focuses on using fresh and seasonal ingredients ranging from prime cuts of meat, poultry, and game to a wide variety of seafood and local produce from the surrounding farmlands. The food is amazing, the décor vibrant, and the view spectacular.
Mecinas is the proud father of two boys, Brian, a sophomore in high school, and Freddy, who is in his final year of college. He graciously attributes much of his success to the patience, understanding, and support of his wife, Eugenia.
Here’s what Medinas had to say about healthy cooking, moderation, and “big flavor.”
Diane Henderiks: Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?
Mel Mecinas: Absolutely. The difference now, though, is that people do not want to sacrifice taste or experience for a healthy lifestyle — and they shouldn’t have to! We pride ourselves on offering options that appeal to diners of all types and that [are] easily modified to accommodate specific preferences. Our guests are also more inclined to ask where our ingredients are from, and we utilize our incredible local farmers and purveyors whenever possible.
What’s your definition of “healthy eating”?
I am strictly in the “everything in moderation” camp. As a chef, I don’t make anything “off limits,” — after all, much of my job is tasting everything around me — but I prefer to utilize fresh, local produce straight from the farmers market over store-bought goods. Fresh is always better than out of a box.
What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?
When I cook for our guests in the restaurant, I make a point to use olive oil over butter and lean, grass-fed meats and sustainable seafood, which still offers incredible health benefits, but doesn’t skimp on flavor. Also, being from Oaxaca, I love big flavor. Spices add so much to food without the extra calories and fat of a heavy sauce, which often detract from the overall flavor and texture of a dish.
What is your favorite dish on your own menu and why?
Right now, it is our bacon-wrapped buffalo tenderloin with mole oaxaqueño. The addition of bacon to the very lean buffalo adds a layer of flavor, while the mole holds a special place in my heart since it is my family’s recipe.
How about an update on what’s new and exciting in your world?
Aug. 12 to 14 we are celebrating what we are calling Hispanic Heritage Weekend at the Resort and in the restaurants, which will include an incredibly special dinner that I am doing with two of my talented chef brothers on Aug. 13. Also, I am so thrilled to continue our popular [Monthly Mashup] series through the fall with a fantastic lineup of Valley chefs.