Riki Altman-Yee Riki Altman-Yee | August 21, 2019 | Food & Drink Feature National
After years of cultivation TERRA farm + manor welcomes its first wave of guests, with co-founder/chef James Porter serving up a taste of culinary adventure and feasts for all the senses.
Chef James Porter guides guests through fundamental cooking techniques, including the mastery of perfect pasta.
Like finding water in the desert, guests traveling deep within Prescott National Forest feel an inexplicable shift the first moment TERRA farm + manor comes into view. Perhaps it is because their hopeful expectations suddenly became very real at the sight of the 100,000-plus-acre estate with the refined farmhouse, vineyard, gardens and meandering livestock. This tableau is just how chef James Porter, TERRA’s co-founder, envisioned it years ago.
Farm-fresh wagyu T-bones await a live fire grill.
In 2014, after he sold Petite Maison, his restaurant in Scottsdale, Porter ran into friends who wanted to do something prodigious with their unused land. “We started noodling ideas around,” Porter recalls. True inspiration struck via Netflix’s Chef’s Table, and they decided to conceptualize something extraordinary in the vein of New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns; Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm; and Jenny Lake Lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Fresh-picked vegetables on display in the state-of-the-art instructional kitchen
It took years, but, eventually, they called in experts to help turn the wild land into a pastoral yet well-appointed destination for those who appreciate food, where it comes from and the techniques that make ingredients sing. Porter brought in farmers to help plant produce and herbs; vintners to advise which rootstock varietals would sustain Arizona’s harsh environment; cowboys to manage herds of wagyu cattle; and builders to assemble a house with eight rooms of living quarters, a dining room and a state-of-the-art cookery school. Eventually, the livestock arrived: white African guinea fowl, a dozen Spanish black Iberian pigs (“I’m one of three people in the continent with live Iberian pigs,” Porter explains), French Black Copper Marans—chickens that lay dark brown eggs—along with goats and sheep that produce milk for cheesemaking classes. (For the record, some of these animals might become dinner someday, but all processing, Porter promises, is blessedly done off-site.)
Porter and farmer Jeffrey Herbig survey 15 acres of growing produce, including varieties of stone fruits and winter squashes, which will be harvested in autumn.
Then Porter began creating a list of classes designed to highlight seasonal ingredients, and welcoming esteemed chefs, winemakers and sommeliers, bakers, artisans and artists he has befriended over the years. This fall’s lineup, for example, includes chef Christopher Gross from Wrigley Mansion, food photographer Joanie Simon, winemaker Sam Pillsbury and master baker MJ Coe. Classes are hands-on, so groups of up to 8 participants gather around an extraordinarily spacious butcher block before preparing their creations on Wolf gas ranges and ovens. Outside, they try their hand at a wood-burning oven, traditional or deep-pit barbecue, and open fire.
Guests indulge in gourmet treats, including artisan cheeses, local honey and organic figs.
When they are not cooking, socializing or indulging in fine meals, guests can try sporting clays and fly-fishing, horseback tours and hot air balloon rides, golfing, and kayaking. They can even partake in yoga classes, massages, or just stargazing and meditation.
Now that September has arrived, Porter says, he has amazing opportunities planned at his new haven in the woods for the wedding parties, corporate retreaters and vacationers who made their reservations months ago: “I’m doing a big truffle experience. It’s going to be epic.” Then there is always fall harvest which, he says, is, “so much fun, but it’s a lesson in patience.” If there is one thing TERRA teaches everyone, it is this: Good things come to those who wait.
TERRA FARM + MANOR
Open Sept. 1 through mid-November and mid-April through May or June
All-inclusive and minimum five-day stay, $6,000 per person, $11,000 per couple, 928.228.5510
Photography by: TERRA farm + manor