Tanque Verde Ranch, a historic dude ranch owned by Cote Family Destinations, has announced the appointment of McKenzie O’Leary as executive chef.
A 15-year veteran of the culinary industry and a 16-year Tucson resident, O’Leary joins Tanque Verde Ranch from Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, where she served as chef de cuisine. At Miraval, she learned extensively about the intentionality behind food, including its nutritional value to the body and the benefits of anti-inflammatory, plant-based, and gluten-free diets.
Prior to Miraval, O’Leary has held various roles in the Tucson culinary scene, including pastry chef at Hub Restaurant & Ice Creamery; executive chef at Pantano Christian Church, where she followed her passion for meaningfully giving back to her community by running all aspects of staffing and food service for the nonprofit; executive chef and beverage director at Forty Niner Country Club; culinary instructor at GAP Ministries; and founder of a French macaron business, a passion project while raising her daughter.
“Chef McKenzie is as empathetic toward people as she is passionate about her craft,” said Tanque Verde Ranch General Manager Terry Hanley. “The positive energy and personality that McKenzie brings to our kitchen has been transformative in fostering a uniquely supportive and enthusiastic culture among our culinary team.”
In her new role, she has already reshaped the culinary experience at Tanque Verde Ranch by utilizing Sonoran cooking traditions in the kitchen, introducing personalized culinary programming for guests, and creating new banquet menus. She is committed to evolving Tanque Verde Ranch’s approach to cooking by utilizing more local and heritage ingredients like beans and authentic grains from the Sonoran Desert. She is also committed to offering dishes suited for various dietary restrictions, employing her nutritional expertise.
In terms of programming, O’Leary has introduced culinary classes tied to seasonal harvests, such as Tucson’s famous prickly pears and chef table dinners, where she works individually with guests to create a personalized six-course wine pairing menu for groups. Her new banquet menus offer elevated options for weddings and events with unique flavors and dishes, while paying homage to legacy ranch guests by keeping longtime favorites dishes—such as the famed cactus cookies—on the menu. Additionally, she has helped expand Tanque Verde Ranch’s culinary team, bringing pastry and banquet chefs from Miraval, as well as hiring for additional roles.
“Joining the team at Tanque Verde Ranch feels like the culmination of my work as a chef in Tucson,” said O’Leary. “The opportunity to contribute to an establishment with such a beautiful legacy, steeped in tradition and entrenched in Tucson’s rich history, is incredibly unique. I am excited to honor the cherished traditions of this property and Tucson’s culinary history, while introducing fresh and innovative menus and programs.”