Kevin Lewis and Kai

Sommelier Kevin Lewis Talks Culture and Wine at Kai

By: Carina Dominguez

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August 14, 2018

This accomplished Gila River Indian Community tribal member perfectly pairs wine with award-winning food at the sophisticated Kai Restaurant.

About the author

Carina Dominguez

Carina Dominguez

Carina Dominguez is a journalist from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Tucson. She previously worked for CBS Television Network in New York City, and its affiliate in Tucson, and has aspirations of being on-air one day. Carina is passionate about reporting on Native Americans, politics, sports and environmental issues. She has been published in numerous publications and media outlets including CBSNews.com, The Arizona Republic, The Tucson Sentinel and The Eastern Arizona Courier. You can read more of her work at https://carinad7.wordpress.com.

Food and wine pairings offered at Kai – the only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star restaurant in Arizona – capture the essence of American Indian fare and culture. Kevin Lewis, from the Gila River Indian Community, is the wine director at this elegant restaurant inside the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass southeast of Phoenix in Chandler.

The first time Lewis sampled a wine pairing – courtesy of a friend’s creative choices – his career as a sommelier was set. “I had never really had wine paired like that before,” he recalls. “And that was my light-bulb moment.”

When creating new pairings he strives to recreate that inspirational moment for guests. Along with keeping familiar and local wines on his list, he also “loves introducing people to new wines that they wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to enjoy.”

Wine and food go hand-in-hand at Kai

Helping keep Lewis’ imagination steady – and the wine list varied – is the frequently changing menu by Chef de Cuisine Ryan Swanson and his reliance on the seasonal produce from surrounding Pee-Posh and O'otham tribal communities.

Menu changes notwithstanding, one of Lewis’s favorite dishes is Swanson’s foie gras, which he pairs with a Madeira wine. “As soon as I tasted that dish I knew where I wanted to go with it,” he says. “What I like to do with my pairings is think outside the box and maybe go a little bit bolder than what someone would expect.”

Look forward to unexpected wine pairings with the inventive native cuisine, as the restaurant kicks off its new season this month after its annual summer closure in July.

The complete Kai experience

As soon as guests arrive at Kai, they are treated to a full sensory experience during their multicourse-dinner. Kai’s American Indian heritage covers not only the O’otham and Pee-Posh way of life through the collaboration of Chef Swanson and Sommelier Lewis but also the atmosphere, from the detailed paintings on the walls and menus to an educated staff trained by Cultural Manager Rosie Rivera.

For a culinary experience that injects authentic, local tribal flavors, reserve your spot at Kai at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, (602) 385-5777, wildhorsepassresort.com. (Kai accepts diners 13 and older and maintains a smart business dress code.)

Sample other American Indian eateries

  • For more casual heritage food try the Fry Bread House in Phoenix. It’s the first American Indian restaurant to win the James Beard America’s Classics award. There are savory and sweet frybread options, burritos, stews and tamales.
  • Huhugam Ki Museum, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community's museum, hosts a mesquite pancake breakfast twice a year—on the Saturday closest to Salt River Day in June and on the Saturday closest the museum’s anniversary in November (returning in 2019). The pancakes are made with mesquite flour and drizzled with prickly-pear syrup.
  • Specialties at Cafe Santa Rosa in South Tucson include frybread with squash and a mesquite grilled chicken salad featuring ciolim (cholla cactus buds). The café is located one mile from the San Xavier Co-op Farm, where they purchase some of their ingredients.

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