- Olivia Stumpf
El Panzon Y Frida: Where Art and Gastronomy Play
El Panzon Y Frida is not your typical dining establishment. A truly one-of-a-kind find, located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, El Panzon invites guests to have an unmatched and interactive experience.
El Panzon, being Spanish for “big belly,” is a reference to Diego Rivera, husband of artist, Frida Kahlo. The restaurant was inspired by the famous painter and her captivating relationship with her hurly spouse.
“The way they lived inspires me. They were very passionate, colorful, explosive and intense…I get inspired by their love and their pain,” said Executive Chef, Paulina Martinez.
Martinez thought she would grow up to be a painter, but found herself feeling limited with color palates and brush strokes. Instead, she longed to create art that stimulated all five senses, which landed her in the kitchen.
Born and raised in Mexico, Martinez moved to Arizona three years ago. One would think that her culinary creations would be a reflection of her heritage. However, Martinez didn’t fall into the traditional Mexican kitchen. Many of her dishes are a fusion of Latin, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, a representation of her previous work experience.
Finding her inspiration from art, Martinez aims to convey her loving fury for food, while providing guests with a lively, powerful and unpredictable dining experience. For example, a simple macaroni and cheese is transformed with a blend of vibrant cheeses and combined with oxtail for an unprecedented and bold touch.
Describing her cooking as “New American fusion,” Martinez uses local honeycomb, herbs, spices and citrus to bring a new dynamic to traditional flavors. She also pays homage to her Mexican heritage by using customary cooking techniques, such as roasting for preparation of sauces.
Martinez said, “I want [guests] to try different things that they haven’t tried before. I try to create something unique that they won’t find anywhere.”
Cooking conventional food with farm-to-table ingredients, Martinez created her favorite dishes on the menu, the grilled clam appetizer and salmon entree. The clam dish is a variation of a traditional pozole, but incorporates lemon, roasted corn aioli and radishes, whereas the salmon involves the use of a lemongrass beurre blanc, brussels sprouts, sunchokes, pickle-ginger syrup and local sorrel. With every conception she hopes to create a plate that exuberates affection.
“I try to translate the love that we put together in the kitchen into the food too. We really do care,” Martinez gushes.
She also enjoys conveying humor through food. Admittedly having a dark and heavy wit, Martinez tries to communicate her personality to guests when deciding upon food presentation. For example, the simplicity of her bone marrow dish, which appears as just three bones on a plate, demonstrates an odd minimalism. Or the ceviche dish, which is more like a game of hide and seek, encourages diners to find the fish hidden under chips.
For Martinez, a unique gastronomic experience goes beyond food and presentation. It takes into consideration the dining atmosphere. Before starting at El Panzon, Martinez hoped to become a part of a detail-oriented project that utilized different textures within building design and layout, and incorporated complimentary lighting and music. El Panzon delivered that package.
Martinez notes, “The intention of the whole design is so that you don’t get bored.”
Martinez won’t let patrons become bored with her menu either. She likes to create an interactive meal, so many finger foods are commonly found on the menu.
“If you are just sitting at a table and start looking around, you will start to find details, so you won’t get bored…[With] the food too, it’s the same thing. You’ll experience a lot of different flavors and different textures,” said Martinez.
One highly recommended pairing that is sure to illuminate all of the senses is the Tortured Artist white wine blend with the whipped burrata dessert. This is served with hazelnut cornbread, almonds, strawberrys, honeycomb and a maple vinaigrette. Within this one dish, sweet, savory and sour flavors are both enhanced and complimented by the wine.
As she does with main attractions and final bites, Martinez admittedly tries to create something new without direction. Resulting in an ever-changing menu, even frequent patrons are likely to have a different experience during each visit.
When asked what is most rewarding about her work at El Panzon, Martinez responds, “When a guest receives a dish and they try it for the first time and you see them close their eyes and you can see [the enjoyment] in their face.”
The response of a true artist.