When you hear the term “Haute Couture,” what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s Paris, Milan, London, and New York—the Big Four of the Fashion Weeks. Maybe it’s visionaries like Chanel, Gaultier, Givenchy or Dior (to name a few), who made the world of haute couture what it is today. Perhaps, for some, nothing comes to mind at all. Haute Couture, or high fashion, is the creation of exclusive, custom-made, hand-crafted clothing. With attention to detail being so acute, only the most gifted hands will touch the piece that, from the designer’s drawing board, sees the runway. So, I ask again, “What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘Haute Couture?’” I could probably guess, with absolute certainty, that your answer is not a hamburger. But, then again, you’re not Lisa Dahl.
Chef Lisa Dahl — the pioneering restaurateur of Red Rock Country—introduced herself with Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano over twenty-three years ago. Following Dahl & Di Luca, she launched Cucina Rustica, then Pisa Lisa, followed by Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill. Each of Lisa’s restaurants is unique unto itself with none lacking her extraordinary flair for individuality. We sat in the provocative space of the soon-to-be-opening Butterfly Burger. On the imported, honed-finish granite bar, I rested my elbow. My eyes were drawn from the exposed, lofted ceiling down the black, mushroom wood walls to the crocodile-like banquettes. I looked over to Lisa, who was holding her beloved pup, Leonardo, and I asked her about her work in the fashion industry. I stood corrected.
“I grew up in fashion. My mother attended the Fashion Institute in Manhattan,” Lisa explained. “She was way ahead of her time. She opened shop at the Indy 500 racetrack and sold clothing to the wives of racers like A.J. Foyt. “I was rewarded with clothing, like when I got good grades.” Lisa laughed, sharing that her mother gave her what didn’t sell, the pieces that no one else wanted, but it was all the best stuff. At 16, Lisa attended Fashion Week in New York and selected the winners. Though admittedly the winners were not necessarily her personal favorites, Lisa knew what the people would like. And she was right. She compared her experience in fashion with being a restaurateur. “We follow trends, in all things. You cannot always do exactly what you like ... If you’re simply going to rest your laurels on what’s the most expensive, most fashionable, most in-demand, etc., you will miss the diversity of the people.”
Lisa has spent the last three years at Mariposa, re-imagining the burger. She admitted that, more than anything, “This is juicier to me,” pointing to the trophies sitting atop the gold-speckled, glossy black granite pub table behind her. Lisa shared that between 800 and 1,000 people tasted and voted in the Scottsdale Burger Battles in which she competed. “I was the only brand that didn’t have a burger concept. I was the only contestant not from a major metropolitan area.” In her first and second years at the Burger Battle, Lisa won the People’s Choice—her most prized award—and Judge’s Choice awards. She would win a third Scottsdale prize for her bourbon-topped Waco Kid burger, named for the worn-out, alcoholic gunslinger in Mel Brooks’s 1974 film Blazing Saddles. On the menu one will find the Gringo—an American burger with a Latin twist—the Japanese inspired Samurai Supremo, the Italian Stallion that’s got Italian bravado and, Lisa’s personal favorite, “The Mi Quiero Vaquero, which means, ‘I want cowboy,’” Lisa laughed. Lisa is elevating the conventional patty to a gourmet experience that she has dubbed, “A haute couture burger experience.”
Lisa spent a decade in the exotic footwear industry—successfully codesigning and combining styles and influences like French with Asian. In that, she found something truly unique and magical mixing patterns and materials. These experiences gave Lisa, not merely the confidence, but the desire to experiment with multi-cultural and multi-ethnic flavors. What you will experience at Butterfly Burger can only be compared to what those haute couture designers and dressmakers brought to their fashion tables. Each burger began as an idea. Those ideas became designs, and from that culinary drawing board, the designs were hand-crafted with keen attention to detail. From her kitchen to your table, Chef Dahl brings you the most exquisite burger experience. “I do like to keep it classic,” LIsa admitted, “but always want to have a unique twist, a personal touch.”
That classic but unique ‘twist’ goes far beyond the sumptuous food itself. The atmosphere, design, and decor of the space are just as decadent. “I wanted an organic look,” she says, explaining that she chose mushroom wood as a signature part of the decor, “because each piece is so different. The wood itself is meant to be the art. ”This mood is reflected and captured in the photo that graces the bar, of Duke Ellington dining with her parents. Just as runway fashion is wearable art, Chef Dahl’s culinary genius and eye for design delivers an art experience that is both edible and visceral. Butterfly Burger, like all of Lisa’s restaurants, was inspired by her son, Justin. His tragic murder two decades ago led her to abandon her life in the Bay Area and come to Sedona. “It was a place that everyone said was such a healing place,” Lisa shared. “I thought, ‘What a good place to start over.’” A year later, Dahl & DiLuca was born. The move proved beneficial for Lisa, and everyone who’s ever dined at any one of her establishments. It is demonstrated in the many accolades bestowed upon Chef Dahl. This includes the recently awarded “Best Chefs of America Hall of Fame Award” by National Elite—an invitation-only, membership-based culinary organization that supports the best restaurants, chefs, and restaurateurs across the country. “Chef Dahl … truly embodies the next level of excellence our organization stands for,” National Elite CEO Jack Tien said in announcing the award.
When asked why Lisa selected the Village of Oak Creek, Dahl stated, “VOC is the gateway to Sedona, and it’s long overdue for a culinary identity all its own.” If anyone could make that happen, it’s Lisa Dahl. Like Elsa Schiaparelli—an Italian fashion designer, rival of Coco Chanel and one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars—Chef Dahl is a pioneer. And, summed up in the words of Schiaparelli, “A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.”
“I love décor and designing new things,” Dahl said, her passion evident in Butterfly Burger’s sexy, sublime vibe. More a lounge than a formal eatery, the nostalgic air hearkens Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennet with a nightclub atmosphere you’d find in SoHo or Chicago.”
“I see food as fashion and fashion as food. We eat with our eyes; it’s visual and flavor.”
Story written by Eve Hunter and Kimberly Shilkaitis Photos by Scott Yates