What's Cooking in Our Kitchen?

A kids' cookie workshop led by Christina vega-zubiate

A kids' cookie workshop led by Christina vega-zubiate

People say that the kitchen is the heart of the home, the space where everyone comes together to cook and connect and create memories. If you've stayed here at the inn or taken a tour, you know there's a state-of-the art commercial kitchen hiding behind a pair of purple doors here. Since we opened in 2015, the kitchen has slowly evolved from a quiet space occassionally used by a few caterers and vendors to a bustling hub for Ajo cooks. We're happily watching it become the heart of the inn.

Our kitchen serves two purposes. First off, it's our catering facility, where local and visiting chefs create delicious meals for groups staying here. We partner with a number of cooks in Ajo who can whip up just about anything, but specialize in local flavors and ingredients unique to the Southwest and Mexico. Two of the caterers you'll often find in our kitchen are cousins Dionne Vega and Christina Vega-Zubiate, who make incredible dishes like chiles en nogada and a Oaxacan mole made with fruit called manchamanteles - literally "table cloth stainer". I'm drooling just writing those words, and can't wait for some of Dionne's upcoming meals for our Road Scholar and REI Adventures hiking groups in November.

Dionne & Christina's Chiles en Nogada, featuring Ajo pomegranates. Photo by Margaret Collins.

Dionne & Christina's Chiles en Nogada, featuring Ajo pomegranates. Photo by Margaret Collins.

Farmers Market Manager Mimi Phillips leading an Ajo citrus marmalade work session. Photo by Jewel Clearwater-Fraser.  

Farmers Market Manager Mimi Phillips leading an Ajo citrus marmalade work session. Photo by Jewel Clearwater-Fraser.  

Second, it's a community commissary, available for rent to cooks who wants to produce food for the farmers' market, private events, public festivals, and to sell online and at retail outlets. We have a growing roster of vendors who come in throughout the week to prepare foods, and this fall, the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture is organizing vendors for a weekly Friday cooking session to prepare for each Saturday's Authentically Ajo Farmers Market. This week, vendors churned out an incredible array of foods for the first market of the season including homemade ice cream sandwiches, quiches, tamales, chili, jams, and fresh-roasted coffee. As our staff popped in and out of the kitchen Friday, we saw it coming to life with beautiful, fresh foods and a group of talented, focused vendors.

Chef/Manager Kerry leads a training for kitchen users.

Chef/Manager Kerry leads a training for kitchen users.

A shared kitchen like this doesn't run itself. We're fortunate to have a powerhouse Chef/Manager steering the ship, Kerry Stambler. Kerry joined us last winter and since coming on board has accelerated the transformation of the kitchen. She's reorganized it, cleaned it top to bottom with the help of our housekeeping crew, developed new systems to make sure users have what they need, and done trainings so they know how to use the equipment. Kerry's also our breakfast guru, getting up at the crack of dawn to make breakfast for groups. Her (gluten-free!) muffins and sausage strata are to-die-for.

Even with this recent uptick in activity, we're just scratching the surface of possibilities for this kitchen. We'd love to sign up more vendors and caterers; hold more frequent workshops (we've done these before and they've been popular); host visiting chefs and an Ajo Culinary Weekend Retreat...what ideas to you have for our kitchen?  Tell us in the comments section or by emailing us at kitchen@sonorancc.com!

Visit our Kitchen and Groups & Events pages to learn more about this unique feature of the property.

 

There's a Buzz in the Air

There's always a special energy to early fall in Ajo, as summer winds down and the weather (finally!) cools off.  But this year there's an extra buzz in the air being generated by new and growing businesses, a gaggle of entrepreneurs, and great events. Some highlights, as you plan your next trip to Ajo:

Photo: Harris & Smith

Photo: Harris & Smith

Harris & Smith, the new coffee shop in the Plaza, is bustling with activity - a creative menus of drinks and goodies, a new retail section (we love these crocheted cactus pillows by local crafter Wendy Hamilton!), and events like art workshops, a family "Sidewalk Scribble", and tours of the old Oasis Movie Theater (the next one is this Saturday, 10/7). Harris & Smith is partnering with us to offer our guests 15% off at the cafe during their stay at the inn - get your coupon at check-in!

Photo: Agave Grill

Photo: Agave Grill

Agave Grill, which opened last spring, has added a beautiful patio, revamped their menu, and now has a full liquor license with a daily happy hour. Some of our staff and guests headed there on a recent Saturday night for live music - Vicki Tapp, who works in our office, was performing with her group Diamonds & Rust - and the place was packed. Kudos to owner Freeman Fry and his team for their work on the restaurant; it's becoming a wonderful Ajo gathering spot. 

In September our partners the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture (ACSA) hosted the 3rd annual Baja Arizona Pomegranate Festival in our courtyard, which houses their Many Hands Learning Center & Farm. The event featured workshops, tastings, and crafts starring Ajo's favorite fruit, the lovely pomegranate. Over 200 people attended, and we can't wait for the Farmers Market - also organized by ACSA - to get underway in the Plaza on 10/14. No better place to spend a Saturday morning! 

Photo: Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Photo: Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture

photo: marie reilly

photo: marie reilly

The 14th annual International Day of Peace festival was also in September, bigger than ever. The International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) brought in bands, dancers and stiltwakers from Ajo, Tucson, the Tohono O'odham Nation and Sonoyta, Mexico, who marched in a parade and performed in the Plaza for over 500 residents and visitors. This event felt especially important this year, a chance to celebrate peace and friendship in our tricultural community and across the border. ISDA's next cool event: a free, outdoor screening of Ghostbusters in the Plaza this Saturday, 10/7!

A new karate and yoga studio has opened in the Plaza, Bonzai Studios. Sensei Arlette Espinoza has led children's karate classes for the past year in the Saguaro Room at the inn, and local yoga teacher Morgana Wallace Cooper was teaching some of her classes in the same space. Now they've teamed up to launch their own space, which is beautiful - big windows, high ceilings, and a new floor. We'll miss them holding their classes here, but love seeing a new business open in the Plaza. The yoga schedule is here and posted in our office, and stay tuned for special yoga events here at the inn with Morgana, like last year's Chakra Retreats.

The Curley School Artisan Apartments is launching a gallery this month, featuring the work of Curley School residents. Getting this volunteer-run gallery off the ground has been a labor of love, led by residents Bona Jordan and Karen Sucharksi. It will provide an opportunity for our guests to view and purchase work by Curley School artists. There's a soft opening this Friday 10/6 for the Curley School community, right after another gallery opening for the public: "Visions from Rocky Point" at the Copper News Gallery.

Lastly, we're so excited to have a new coffee roaster working out of our commercial kitchen. Curley School resident and artist Annelise Keuper is launching Curley Coffee this fall and is busy roasting up different varietals in our kitchen - so don't be surprised if you smell fresh-roasted coffee as you wander through our courtyard! Look for her products at the Farmers Market and in our office gift shop later this fall.

This list certainly isn't exhaustive; check out the Ajo Chamber of Commerce online calendar and our local paper The Copper News for other community events, openings, gallery shows, festivals, concerts...for a sleepy little desert town, we have an awful lot going on!

A new blog is born!

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This will be a space for us to share news, stories, photographs, and guest experiences here at the Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center. There are already lots of great ways to connect with us - our newsletter, Facebook, Instagram, Trip Advisor - and this blog will aim to complement those. Our mission is to share authentic experiences with our visitors and help them live like locals while they're in town; this blog will be a window into our community and the wonderful things that go on here. Stay tuned!                                                                                      

~ Directors Emily & Stuart Siegel