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Food Network and Phoenix chef Beau MacMillan builds connections through food

If you’re involved in the Phoenix food scene, you’ve probably heard of, worked for, or dined at a table of Chef Beau MacMillan.
Updated: Mar. 16, 2022 at 10:00 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — If you’re involved in the Phoenix food scene, whether it be as a hungry patron or restaurant chef, you’ve probably heard of, worked for, or dined at a table of Chef Beau MacMillan. MacMillan has been serving up food, leading kitchens, mentoring chefs and advising the culinary direction of restaurants for over 24 years in the Valley.

MacMillan’s latest endeavor, Cala, opened on Jan. 21 in Scottsdale on the ground floor of the Senna House Hotel at 75th Street and Camelback Road. Cala is a Mediterranean and coastal-inspired restaurant from the Clive Collective, which MacMillan serves as the director of culinary operations. MacMillan, the culinary director for Cala, and his team crafted a menu focused on farm-fresh coastal cuisine inspired by flavors and dishes from Greece, Spain, Italy, Morocco, and the entire Mediterranean coastline! The menu takes a healthy focus and utilizes seasonal ingredients. Cala also features an extensive wine and beer list. MacMillan is also the culinary advisor at the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley. In previous foodie reports, I’ve covered the Sanctuary’s restaurant Elements and Jade Bar. MacMillan has created an absolute culinary powerhouse of a kitchen at Elements with Chef de Cuisine Samantha Sanz and a solid bar experience helmed by Bar Chef Christiaan Röllich.

It’s been a busy couple of months for MacMillan, who, along with his fellow hospitality gurus, also opened a new restaurant, Money, Baby!, in Las Vegas during the summer of 2021. Following the successful launch of the group’s sports-casual restaurant at the Virgin Hotel in Vegas, MacMillan says excitement was in the air and a new opportunity in Scottsdale quickly presented itself.

Indoor entrance to Cala at the Senna House Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Indoor entrance to Cala at the Senna House Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.(Jeff Popovich)

“An opportunity came for us here in the entertainment district outside of Old Town right here at the old Don & Charlie’s location at the Senna House hotel. It was almost too good of an opportunity to pass up. So, did I want to open up two restaurants within under a year, not really, but we’ve pulled it together and put a dream team together and now Cala is actually on its way,” MacMillan explained.

Cala really is a vibe worth experiencing, whether you’re looking for a delicious drink in an upscale environment in a fun part of town, a hearty, healthy, and appetizing meal with friends or loved ones, or to simply enjoy new experiences of emerging restaurants and entertainment tends, Cala is worth adding to your list. The interior features contrasting dark and light colors and tones, with radiant lighting throughout to enhance intimacy at tables. The aesthetics are visually appealing and inviting, with a steadfast and knowledgeable staff ready to inform and serve up a remarkable experience. This guest experience simmers down to several goals that MacMillan aligned for the restaurant.

Cala at the Senna House Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Cala at the Senna House Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.(Jeff Popovich)

“All the food I’ve ever done in my whole life has really been about a story of a concept or my life, or a piece of every person that comes in that illuminates the restaurant space and it’s really an expression of who we are in this industry,” MacMillan explained. “With Cala, I wanted to create a warm feel, the design with my partners who came in, I think, they really knocked it out of the park. We got this almost beachy, coastal, warm environment with great lighting and great food, and inside and outdoor seating. So for us, the no-brainer was really just trying to put some approachable food around that.”

In fact, the name of the restaurant itself, Cala, coincides with the experience, menu, and interior design of the restaurant. Cala means “cove” in Italian and Spanish, which MacMillan says inspired the Clive Collective to design a beautiful environment and menu inspired by those regions.

The outdoor patio and bar at Cala at the Senna House Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The outdoor patio and bar at Cala at the Senna House Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.(Jeff Popovich)

“People call it Mediterranean cuisine. I don’t really love labels on food, I take inspiration from everything but I think we have a lot of firepower to take people around that Mediterranean sea and really showcase some of the incredible food that comes from those regions,” MacMillan said.

While Cala-goers can expect some Mediterranean staples, including handmade pasta, fresh cheeses, bread, locally-grown vegetables and fresh seafood dishes, at Cala, it’s the way the dishes are presented and how. MacMillan’s long track record in the kitchens and hospitality has proven he has developed a formula for putting meals together that reaches and connects people.

“You want to concept food that I think reaches people and has approachability. I’ve always stuck to my guns where simplicity is perfection, so to speak; it’s not there’s nothing left to add to a dish, it’s when there’s really nothing left to take away sometimes is where I feel like you get the biggest rewards,” MacMillan explained. “When you’re a cook or a chef, and you serve food that’s cared for or simple and delivered correctly, you’re going to have wins.”

When it comes to reaching people through food, MacMillan’s cooking has reached the eyes of millions. MacMillan has been featured several times on the Food Network, from Iron Chef America (where he beat Bobby Flay in “Battle American Kobe Beef”), hosting Worst Cooks in America, to participating in The Next Iron Chef and Guy’s Grocery Games (once as a judge and as a chef where he won during an all-star series episode). Before and during all of this, however, MacMillan says he has always considered himself lucky and blessed to have established his roots in Phoenix all those years ago.

From left to right: Lumache a La Vodka (left), Lamb Kofta (top right), and Diavola pizza...
From left to right: Lumache a La Vodka (left), Lamb Kofta (top right), and Diavola pizza (bottom right).(Jeff Popovich)

MacMillan’s tenure in the Valley has led to mentoring many in the kitchen, including the blossoming careers of chefs like Chef de Cuisine Samantha Sanz at Sanctuary’s Elements, or Cala’s very own executive chef Peter McQuaid. MacMillan’s long-standing legacy at Sanctuary and continued relationship with them as Culinary Advisor has led to the fruition of aspirational goals like the Nirvana Food and Wine Festival. The annual event held at the Sanctuary invites international chefs, winemakers, and spirit makers to showcase their expertise in the Valley, where local chefs are given a chance to shine on a global scale. Aside from having such an impact on the hearts and minds of chefs and watching them grow in kitchens around the Valley, MacMillan has also been able to witness the food scene grow around Phoenix over the years.

“I’ve seen it come so far. I don’t know if you can find another chef that’s more proud to be a chef in this community but also more proud to work with the people around me. When we developed our food and wine festival, it was really to bring light to the Southwest and Arizona chefs. I have over 80 chefs that participate in the event yearly, and so I’m the biggest ambassador for what goes on in this city, and I travel a lot, and I’ll tell you, the chefs in this town can throw sautéed pans down with anybody, in any city, anywhere, and we’ll be ready to rock and roll,” MacMillan said.

As someone who has sampled the foods and met the chefs at MacMillan’s restaurants, I would gladly attest that his influence has inspired chefs to find their culinary identities and establish themselves through their food. As a sort of Godfather of local chefs, MacMillan has been a guiding light for many. For example, Cala’s executive chef Peter McQuaid helped launch Money, Baby! before coming back to the Valley to lead the kitchen at Cala.

“I just kind of knew from the moment he approached me and told me about the concept that it was going to be incredible and that I wanted to be a part of it. So I moved up to Vegas, opened that restaurant with them, and when this opportunity arose to come back to Scottsdale and do Cala, I jumped right on it,” McQuaid said. McQuaid’s culinary career got started in the kitchen of Barrio Café under the teachings of legendary Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. From there, McQuaid found his way to the Sanctuary, where his path crossed with MacMillan.

The Branzino a La Plancha at Cala.
The Branzino a La Plancha at Cala.(Jeff Popovich)

When it comes to being a chef, MacMillan’s all-encompassing hats still include the love for hospitality and perhaps the most integral part for any facet of a restaurant or its staff -- the guests.

“The thing I think I get most from it is the natural ability for hospitality, the relationship you build between the host and the guest. But it’s truly reduced down to its core stock, it’s about giving and it’s about pleasing, it’s about sharing. These are the things chefs do every day when they come into work and punch a clock at 7 in the morning and punch out at 11 at night,” MacMillan said. “That’s what it truly is, your goals are to welcome people, to evoke thought, to create some type of beautiful emotional connection through food and service and food and beverage and I’ll tell ya it’s one of the most humble things you can truly be.”

For MacMillan, he says his philosophy for any new restaurant or menu is focused on guests first. “They’re the stars of the show, and that’s really what it should be about,” MacMillan said. This guest-driven experience emanates throughout Cala, with McQuaid and his kitchen determined to please guests and leave them satisfied through food.

“I love that at the end of the day, I’m making people happy. The fact that I can create something, use my imagination and put something on a plate that somebody’s going to eat and enjoy that’s going to make them happy, that’s what really drove me to food and cooking,” McQuaid stated. “Food is a universal thing, and this is something Beau’s said my whole career. You can put 12 people that hate each other at a dinner table and if you serve amazing food, they will all be happy and get along eating that meal. And that’s why I think food is so incredible. It warms your soul.”

Blistered Shishito Peppers at Cala.
Blistered Shishito Peppers at Cala.(Jeff Popovich)

While still learning from his mentors and growing himself, McQuaid says being able to take the role of mentoring younger chefs has become one of his favorite aspects of being a chef. “It’s amazing to be in a position now to help younger cooks and young chefs that have the same drive that I did and still do, to kind of take off their careers and show them a different side of the culinary route, which is awesome,” McQuaid explained.

Cala's Executive Chef Peter McQuaid
Cala's Executive Chef Peter McQuaid(Jeff Popovich)

It’s clear the effect MacMillan has had and the kind of lineage he has established at his restaurants and with his staff over the years. From Elements to Money, Baby!, and now Cala, these restaurants pack seriously dedicated kitchens and chefs focused on guest-first driven experiences. And while Cala’s opening menu might seem lacking in diversity, McQuaid and MacMillan say several new dishes are in the works as the kitchen and staff continue to expand. McQuaid says more seafood, pasta, and presentation meals (some include fire!) are going to be added soon. It’s always an exciting time for foodies when a new restaurant opens, and for those looking for a relaxed environment with phenomenal food, rest assured the time you invest in checking out MacMillan’s latest endeavor at Cala will be well worth it.

This is the tenth segment in a breakout series on chefs in the Phoenix metro. Arizona’s Family Foodie is sitting down with chefs around the Valley to tell their stories of triumphs, perseverance, and dedication to their crafts. There is a sizeable amount of work, research, and experimentation that culminates into what gets placed in front of you on a plate or in a drink. These are the stories of the creative minds behind those delicious meals or cocktails, and how their passions for food and beverage bring us joy and closer together.