An evening with Carlos and Paradiso

You have probably heard about the fine art of pairing wine with dinner. An up and coming alternative trend is to pair other types of beverages (such as beer or whiskey) with food. Last week I was privileged to attend an exclusive private dinner at The Phoenician Scottsdale starring the premium tequila El Tesoro paired with luscious gourmet cuisine prepared by their world-renown, award-winning culinary team.

Before we began our evening, the reception featured three cocktails to choose from. Always ready to sample, I had a bit of each – the El Tesoro Platinum Margarita (a margarita with Cointreau and a base of fresh lemon and lime juice), the Silvestri Suizo Sueco (a drier margarita with lingonberry puree, served very fittingly in a martini glass), and a twist on one of my favorites, the 5ive P (a fruit-infused bellini containing El Tesoro Paradiso, Pomegranate Liquor and prosecco).

After taking our seats in the dining room, before us we noticed two things that I never thought I would be served at a sit down dinner – a shot of tequila next to a trio of sushi made with baby octopus. Neither was very tempting to me, so I politely declined. During this time, Carlos Camarena, the owner of the El Tesoro distillery spoke to our small crowd of 60. He explained how his grandfather began making the fine tequila in its current location in 1937 and how his father, and now he, continued the tradition.

As owner and Master Distiller, Carlos’ stories held us captivated. He explained how his family’s tequila was crafted: The care that went in to selecting the right agave, how the product is pure and organic, and how much pride he and his family take in their business. For example, rather than mass produce tequila to 140-160 proof then adding water to make it 80 proof (as most distilleries do), El Tesoro is distilled by hand to be exactly 80 proof. El Tesoro was the first to do this, and is only one of two distilleries in the world who do.

After the wait staff removed the octopus which in all honesty was not easy to look at, but hard to look away from, they replaced it with a much more welcome treat – a Phoenician Tequila Sunrise (the traditional beverage enhanced with Pomegranate Liquor and a touch of sour mix) paired with mini quesadillas filled with roasted hot peppers and a sort of corn fungus that resembled truffles. The sweetness of the drink was the perfect match for the spicy dish. I nearly licked my plate clean and left not one drop in the glass.

Next up was our third course consisting of flaky seabass. Now if you know me, you know I am not a fish-eater, but this dish was actually delightful. Accompanying it was a bloody maria. The fourth course was the most tender pork tenderloin imaginable, in a spicy mole sauce. The beverage served was a traditional margarita made with Reposado tequila, nearly as delicious as the Tequila Sunrise.

As we awaited our next course, Carlos returned to tell more stories including another example of his groundbreaking techniques. A few years back, when he introduced the idea of aging tequila in oak barrels, his industry colleagues laughed at him. Once he tasted the product of this practice, he knew he had a hit and now has a selection of tequilas processed in this manner. Due to its brandy-like nature, the Añejo tequila was presented to us in miniature brandy snifters meant for sipping though doing so made my lips feel as though they were on fire! The accompanying dish was a delightful plate of Mexican cheeses, meant to clear the palate for what was to come – dessert.

The finale was a fabulously-crafted chocolate tequila cake. It was so beautiful – with a lemon custard meringe-like topping, gorgeous sugar work and layers of tequila-soaked dark chocolate cake, I almost didn’t want to touch it. Of course, I devoured it in about a minute! Another mini snifter was included, this time with the collectors-edition, extremely rare Aniversario tequila.

Carlos’ story of the Aniversario tequila is truly fascinating. You can read it in his own words here – the Coincidence of the Lucky 7s. Although I only had a bit of the cognac-like liquor, I knew it was something very, very special – only 2007 bottles were produced in honor of their 70th anniversary last year.

Fortunately I had the good sense to refrain from overindulging (in alcohol anyway) or I could have been in big trouble during the 45-minute drive home. I do feel that the experience was somewhat wasted on me, as someone who doesn’t know enough about tequila (or care to drink it much).

By the way, we did go home some goodie bags which had shot glasses and cocktail shakers. At upwards of $150 per bottle, there was no chance we’d all be taking the tequila home with us (though three lucky people did win bottles as a door prize). Nor is there any chance that I’ll be purchasing some myself. But – I did walk away with the privileged gift of having had a unique experience and a very interesting evening in the company of a master craftsman. For that – I will always be grateful.

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