From Midwest to Southwest: Chef Neal Hall
At first glance, one might think that Neal Hall is a kitchen apprentice at The Boulders (a Waldorf Astoria resort in Carefree, Arizona) rather than the Chef himself. He looks much younger than his 32 years, but make no mistake, this chef from Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota, knows what he’s doing in the kitchen. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis, Hall was cooking in the Lakes region of Minnesota where, he says, the “menus there were all Walleye and Chicken Wild Rice soup.” When his wife, a teacher, got a job in the Phoenix area, he applied at two resorts. The Boulders called first.
Insider’s: This must have been quite a culinary change for you.
Neal Hall: Yeah, big cultural change, big culinary change, with all the Southwest stuff. We didn’t even have cilantro in our grocery stores, and it’s a key ingredient here. I started at the main resort, and every two years I’d try to work in other areas. I really wanted to get into spa cuisine – we’ve got this great garden over here, and it’s a good opportunity to be more creative.
NH: You can make things you like, get the flavors you want, and make it healthy. It’s like tricking your mind.
Insider’s: What’s an example of something like that?
NH: Cauliflower mashed potatoes, which I make at home a lot. You get the feel of potatoes but without the carbs and without the potatoes. It’s just cauliflower, but it tastes just like mashed potatoes. You blanche or steam the cauliflower, make sure you get all the moisture out of it. I put it back in the oven to get it dry. Use a little bit of skim milk, and I use fat-free sour cream – just a bit to make it look richer. It’s a good trick.
Insider’s: That is a good trick! What else have you got?
NH: My Spa Eggs Benedict. I use a tomato on the bottom instead of the English muffin. Roast turkey, avocado, poached egg and yellow pepper hollandaise, with light cream cheese and no butter. You get the impression you’re having hollandaise. I also grind my own turkey here, and make it into a chorizo. You can’t tell it’s not beef. And I make a waffle that is three-quarters cottage cheese but still crunchy on the outside. That took a long time to figure out.
Insider’s: Who would think of that?
NH: My mom was pretty creative—she was great at opening the fridge and making something. I am pretty good at that, too.