5700 E. McDonald Dr., Paradise Valley

There’s no place like home, especially for Chef de Cuisine Samantha Sanz, who started her culinary career at Elements at Sanctuary Resort before moving around the Valley and ending up back at the same restaurant – this time with a new title. With a background that began in her family’s restaurant, Sanz took everything she learned and now applies it to the dishes at Elements, where her favorite part is helping guests create memories through her food. 

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Nogales, a small town bordering Mexico. I would cross the border every day to attend school there, and then I would spend afternoons in my family’s restaurant, called Trocadero, which is still open to this day. The restaurant has been around for 60 years and has seen multiple generations grow up there.  

When did you first decide you wanted to be in the restaurant industry? 

My love for the kitchen was developed at a very young age. I always wanted to cook new recipes and spent summers learning how to make the meals my mom would cook for us. I was not aware that being a chef was a profession since I saw the restaurant as a family business, and there was really not a chef assigned per se. 

I realized later in life that my grandmother was the chef the whole time. When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in the industry, and I never changed my mind. I came to Scottsdale to pursue my culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale in 2008.

What’s the first thing you remember cooking? 

An omelet! 

Where was your first job, and what position did you hold? 

My first job was at Elements at the Sanctuary as a pantry cook – I took care of titling the cold food. Everything from salads, shellfish displays and cold appetizers.  

How long have you been the chef de cuisine? 

Since November 2020. I am in charge of creating the menus, the quality of food in general, and overseeing the staff and the restaurant.

What is the toughest part about being a chef? 

Sacrificing all of your personal time. To have the mental fortitude to motivate yourself every day. It’s a physical job, so it’s hard on your body. Having patience even when you don’t have any left.  

The best part? 

Mentoring the younger generation of chefs by teaching them multiple skills, not only cooking related but life skills. Another awesome thing is having the power to create something intangible, like memories for our guests.  

Give us a brief timeline of your work history. 

I started at Elements when I was 18. I worked my way through the kitchen until I became the lead cook. I left and took a sabbatical in Paris for a year, which was amazing. I miss it all the time. I love all the fresh food and just how beautiful the city is. I came back to Scottsdale and worked at Virtu Honest Craft with chef Gio Osso. I spent three years there, and I became his chef de cuisine. 

I then pursued a position with The Four Seasons Troon North and was hired as the chef de cuisine of Talavera. While working, I was so blessed to be nominated twice for a James Beard Award, one for Rising Star Chef of the Year for Chefs Under 30 and the second for Best Chef Southwest. Then, in 2020, I was rehired at Elements, this time as chef de cuisine. 

What does a day in the life of Samantha Sanz look like? 

If I’m working, I start my day by waking up at 7 or 8 a.m. I walk my dog, Massimo, brew myself some coffee, check my emails and start getting ready for work. Once I arrive at work, I check in with all the staff and look at the food deliveries. I start looking at banquet orders and reservations and move to do office tasks. 

I spend time in the walk-ins, organizing and making the soup of the day. The rest of the day is expediting the breakfast and lunch food that touches the tables. Then we get ready for dinner service, and another round of staff gets to work. We do a pre-shift meeting and go through reservations, expectations and share ideas. We move on to service, and I continue expediting food and greeting tables.

If I’m off, I usually try to do something for myself. Pedicures, massages, retail therapy, I take myself on lunch dates. Catch up with friends. Take Massimo to the dog park. Maybe watch a movie, study a new cookbook. If I have the energy, I like to hike. I like to draw and paint, so I do that if I have the time. 

Give a brief explanation of the cuisine at Elements. 

Elements is fresh American cuisine that has global influences. The location is amazing; the views are breathtaking.

The most popular items are Wagyu beef dumplings, tuna tartar, miso-glazed Chilean sea bass and red dragon Brussels sprouts. 

Do you maybe have your eye on winning a specific honor after your James Beard nominations? 

Hard work pays off, and that’s really all I focus on.  

Tell me something that might surprise readers to know about you. 

I like to spend time alone. I don’t have any issues having meals at restaurants by myself. 

What is your favorite thing to cook? 

Whatever I crave that day! I love seafood, fresh vegetables, and nice steaks. I cook a lot of Mexican food, and I also enjoy cooking Italian.

Who is your biggest inspiration in your personal life? 

My grandmother, who opened Trocadero with my grandfather. She was always working really hard in the restaurant, always in the kitchen making food and ensuring everything was to her standards. She taught me perseverance and not to let anybody intimidate me or tell me I cannot do it. Oh, and she’s 101 years old!

I admire all my mentors – Chefs Beau MacMillan, Gio Osso, Mel Mecinas and Chuck Kazmeras, as they all helped me become the chef I am.  

What was it like working with Chef MacMillan?

Beau Mac was the first chef I worked with. He is one of the most charismatic and caring human beings. He is passionate about food being beautiful and delicious. We had a lot of fun collaborating and creating menus in 2020. He is always there as a mentor and friend.  

Advice for someone who wants to go into the restaurant industry? 

Get a restaurant job before getting into school debt. School is nothing like the real deal. Working in a restaurant will give you a keen idea of what it truly takes to be in this industry.  

What’s next for Samantha Sanz? 

Continue creating beautiful food that will hopefully create memories!