Seminal Celebrity Chef
Career transitions can be tough – even for Food Network stars. “I still cry sometimes when I drive by Sanctuary,” says Beau MacMillan, who opened the resort’s showpiece restaurant, elements, as executive chef in 2001. “I started there when I was 27… I knew, someday, if I ever got the opportunity to leave Sanctuary, I wanted to put myself in a position where my strengths could be development and creativeness.” In 2022, he made the jump, leaving elements to open Cala, a Mediterranean-inflected spot in Old Town Scottsdale’s Senna House hotel, with his partners in the hospitality group Clive Collective. We sat down with MacMillan at Cala a few months after its first birthday to talk about career phases, food TV (the Guy’s Grocery Games judge was fresh off an appearance on All-Star Grocery Rush) and his next two concepts, due later this year and in 2024.
How’s Cala going, a year in?
What’s crazy is how fast a year goes by. I haven’t really opened a restaurant in 23 years. There’s a lot you have to kind of re-learn. When you find the right people, the right squad, that’s really what sets it apart. I was lucky – I had four culinarians that I’ve worked with, from [Cala executive chef] Peter McQuaid to [chef de cuisine] Clinton Lomayma to [sous chef] Cisco Zazueta, and [pastry chef] Gabi Bissell, who have all been with me for [years]. Pete’s been with me since he was 16 years old. This kid’s only 25 years old now, and he’s opened up two restaurants.
How does it feel to move into a more developmental and mentoring role?
I love that part. I went through an identity crisis, because I’ve been an executive chef [for so long]. My whole career, I’ve been in the industry, working up to being an executive chef, where I had to be at one place owning that… The other side of life as a chef, where I am in my life [now], is helping people out and giving back… I’m also a dad and a husband, and I have five children. This is the first part of my life where I’m saying, “How blessed am I that I have young people that want to be here and want to put the time in?” And if I want to leave at 7 o’clock and go cook my kids dinner, like I did last night, these guys are like, “Chef, see you tomorrow.” The place isn’t going to fall apart.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
One is a speakeasy opportunity that’s kind of going to be a reverse speakeasy. Even though it will have the allure and the drama of a place that’s hidden, it’s not going to be. It’s going to be a cocktail-focused menu [with small bites, including a caviar menu]. The other thing is… I’ve cooked farm-fresh American fare with Asian accents for 23 years. And when I left Sanctuary, I was like, “I hope I never have to cook a miso salmon again in my life.” I’ve been gone for a year, and I missed the Asian flavors in my food so much that we’re going to try [doing] small-plate, tapas-style Asian food…
robata, raw bar, sushi-esque dishes, bao buns, dumplings… Like, I gotta eat some dumplings.
Favorite local restaurants? You always promote Valley places on Food Network.
I’ve been blessed to watch this city grow up… I just went to Pizzeria Virtù the other night, and I [loved it]. I went down to dinner at Bacanora with my wife and had one of the greatest experiences of my life… I still think Tarbell’s is one of the best restaurants in the city. Glai Baan might have been the last best experience [we had]. I really found [chef] Cat [Bunnag]’s depth of evolution in her food absolutely delicious. And her husband is a gem… I can’t get back there soon enough.
Any new shows coming up?
I’ve opened up two restaurants in the last year [Cala and Clive Collective’s Money, Baby! in Las Vegas, which closed in 2022], so it’s kind of taken me away from that space… Obviously, I love to stay relevant and do that stuff, like [Food Network’s smash hit] Tournament of Champions. Unfortunately, I’ve had conflicts with it two years in a row.