Q&A with Chef Drew Anderson, Chef de Cuisine, KAI, Phoenix, Arizona
The Phoenix restaurant KAI, located at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, set against the backdrop of the Komatke Mountain Range and located on the Gila River Indian Community, features a menu rich in creativity, history and Native American culture. KAI celebrates Native American cuisine with global accents to help tell the story of The Akimal O’otham and The Pee Posh peoples while highlighting the culture and history of the area. Through local partnerships they feature artisans and farmers to fully immerse their guests in Southwestern cuisine.
Chef Drew Anderson is the Chef de Cuisine at KAI, the only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star restaurant in Arizona that features a menu rich in Native American culture.
The Minnesota native fell in love with the culinary arts during his youth. After graduating from High School, Chef Anderson attended the Cordon Bleu Institute. From there he progressed his gastronomic awareness before eventually working under Chef Gavin Kaysen at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Under Chef Kaysen’s tutelage, Drew honed his leadership abilities and gained a wealth of knowledge in Fine Dining culture.
While he was at Spoon and Stable, Chef Kaysen won the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef Midwest 2018”. Chef Anderson left Spoon and Stable to move to Arizona and began working under the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef of the Southwest 2019”, Chef Charleen Badman at the acclaimed F&B in Scottsdale Arizona. At F&B, Drew was immersed in the agriculture-based ethos of Arizona Restaurants. Drew began working at KAI after the restaurant reopened due to the global pandemic. At KAI, Drew trained under Chef Ryan Swanson before eventually accepting the role of Chef de Cuisine.
Also, while in Minnesota, he interned at Ingredients Café, moved to Pazzaluna and from there he accepted the Sous Chef position at Valhalla Nordic Smoke and Ale House. He was then asked to join the opening team for Bellecour; one of the top 10 new restaurants in 2017. After the start of 2018, he was asked to move to Spoon and Stable, a sister restaurant of Bellecour.
Meet the young leader in the industry, as he shares his passion for the culinary arts, bringing community together and vision for KAI that spotlights Native American cuisine and culture.
Tell our readers what got you interested in becoming a chef?
Growing up I played competitive sports and ended up falling in love with the competition of a busy kitchen. Food helps to bring people together and I love to make memories through my food.
You’ve had many mentors, tell us about them, their help and advice and their influences in your personal and professional life.
My biggest mentor was and still is Gavin Kaysen from Spoon and Stable in my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His biggest advice to me that I believe can be used in my professional and personal life is to always stay focused and to constantly be learning. There should never be a day where you don’t strive for perfection.
Walk us through your career track and how you found your passion for the culinary field?
I began my culinary journey working in fast food in high school and ended up at Spoon and Stable before moving to Phoenix. Once in the Valley, I began working at F&B in Scottsdale before joining the team at KAI.
We’d love to learn more about KAI and its Native American cuisine. Can you talk us through the concept and the significance behind the dishes?
I like to describe KAI as indigenous cuisine with global accents. Meaning that we source ingredients as locally as possible while juxtaposing these items with the best of the best from around the world. The significance behind each dish is to bring the indigenous cuisine to the forefront while elevating southwestern flavors.
The focus on indigenous cuisine is something that not many restaurants are showcasing. The culture of The Gila River Indian Community is on display in every facet of the KAI dining experience and something that the entire team and I take pride in.
How do you describe your overall cooking philosophy?
I strive to stay as close to home as possible using local purveyors and ingredients. I have lived around the country in many different climates, and I am always continuously inspired by different regions and how I can incorporate these into my menus.
What do you do to stay current on new trends? Describe two or three of the most interesting industry trends.
I try to not allow trends to affect my overall cooking style or menu preparation. I think that if you try to follow trends what ends up happening is that you can end up dating yourself. I am very drawn to cooking styles that have been around for hundreds of years while bringing a modern lens to dishes. I am currently fermenting many different misos, shrubs, and garums to incorporate and enhance flavors.
What is your favorite dish?
Right now, it is The Celebration of Arizona Mushrooms. I love this dish because we utilize all Arizona mushrooms in many different preparations. This is a dish that many of our guests are surprised about because of the locality of sourcing the mushrooms. The flavors play so nicely together, and the balance of the dish is light enough for the brutal summers of Arizona.
What do you love about working at KAI?
To have the ability to showcase the cuisine of the local community of the Pima and Maricopa peoples is something truly special and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I also love working here for the staff and the sense of family it has provided me in Arizona.
To create a team that functions well together and works toward a common goal. Every job is everyone’s responsibility and no one person is above anyone else. The ethos of KAI is to work as one and I will always judge a successful restaurant by how happy my fellow staff members are and with that success will always follow.
How is the heat wave affecting restaurant operations now and for the future?
The heat is affecting produce production and moving up the timeline of when items will be in season. With this, I constantly must be aware to make sure that my menu will be presenting the best of what is at its peak. In the future, with global warming, this is only going to get more unpredictable.