Cambria Downtown Phoenix’s Executive Chef Nate Cayer Concocts Cocktails out of Food Scraps

Marilyn HawkesNovember 25, 2019
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When the Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix opens on Nov. 26, so will its new restaurant, Poppy, with executive chef Nate Cayer at the helm. Cayer, a recent Chicago transplant, has spent time meeting with local vendors to get a feel for the community and has designed Poppy’s menu with seasonality and shareability in mind.

Before moving to Phoenix, Cayer served as executive chef at The Godfrey Hotel in Chicago. We recently caught up with him to find out about his new venture.

What is the restaurant’s concept?
The theme is locally sourced and globally inspired – a little bit on the healthier side. All dishes are either for one person or you can get the same item for the table, family style. We encourage people sharing items to make it a little more intimate, family style. We want to bring people together and be a very community-focused restaurant. 

Any signature dishes?
We’re doing coffee-rubbed lamb chops with pickled huckleberries and cumin chimichurri. That’s one of my staples. My sous chef, Steven Blackburn, is also from Chicago. We’ve worked together for a couple of years. He’s very rustic and Southern and I’m more modern and delicate. It’s a good marriage. Everything we do seems to come together perfectly.

Why is using local purveyors important to you?
We’re working locally with a lot of vendors. It all comes down to supporting our neighbors. We want to help the area grow and if all our money is going out of state, then it doesn’t really help anybody.

I read that you’re interested in reducing the restaurant’s carbon footprint. How?
I’m very good at stretching the dollar and taking what most people consider scraps and finding another purpose. I’ve made a name for myself repurposing ingredients. If you do it right, you’re actually cutting your labor down because you don’t have to spend a lot of time chopping vegetables. You’re just using the ends of things to make stuff. It’s just a win-win for everybody.

Can you give me an example?
In Chicago, I had six bars on the rooftop. Picture all the bar backs cutting limes and throwing away the ends of the limes. I would make mojitos by taking mint stems and the ends of limes and adding sugar. I’d let it sit for 24 hours and the mix will naturally break down. I’d strain it off and that made syrup for the mojitos. Here, I’m doing a cocktail with strawberries and habaneros, same process of adding sugar and then letting the ingredients do the work for you. It will have Mezcal, basil, strawberries and habanero. It’s smoky, a little bit sweet, a little bit sour and spicy.

Any favorite restaurants in the Valley so far?
Maybe Maple & Ash, but that’s kind of cheating because I’m from Chicago. Fellow Osteria and Taco Chulo.


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