The Secret Life of an Architect

Renowned Architect Mark Candelaria Has Turned His Passion for Gourmet Cooking Into a Popular Perk for Clients and Nonprofits

By day, Mark Candelaria designs the Valley’s most elegant and luxurious homes.

But in the evening, under the cover of sunset and within the confines of the finest kitchens — most of them done by him and his team — the longtime acclaimed architect dons a different hat.

A chef’s hat.

For more than 20 years, Candelaria has enjoyed a side gig cooking gourmet meals for clients in the homes he designed. It’s been a kind of housewarming gift that’s customized around the time-honored tradition of breaking bread.

“We joke that there’s a clause in the contract. When the house is all done, I get to cook you a beautiful dinner in the beautiful kitchen I designed for you,” Candelaria says. 

Many take him up on that offer, sometimes 10 or 15 years later, but they all eventually do. Some clients save that experience for a special occasion, like a birthday or wedding anniversary.  

“I spend two or three years designing a home, but I can cook a dinner in two or three hours and get the same feeling of satisfaction,” he says. 

He’s perfected the craft so that he can create stellar dinners for every diet preference. This includes paella, his marquee dish he learned while in Spain from a friend’s mother in 1992. Candelaria has adapted the recipe over time, with chicken, seafood, and chorizo. He also does vegetarian and vegan versions that are just as hearty and satisfying. 

Candelaria’s in-home dinners have gained such a reputation that he’s donated them as auction items for fundraisers. They have also become a family affair, with his daughter Tiffany accompanying him as his sous chef, server, and photographer. 

He’s done a paella dinner for as many as 300 people for a fundraiser. A paella dinner for eight went for $8,000 as an auction item in a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser. 

Candelaria even does paella on job sites, with a large, portable, propane-powered pan. And, he’s got a full kitchen in the office, where he has hosted internal dinners and client team dinners.

It’s clear that food means much more than sustenance. It’s an invaluable connector among friends, colleagues, and even strangers. 

“It’s a way to build and create great relationships,” he says. “I love it when everyone comes over and we cook together.”

Food was always an integral part of Candelaria’s life. His mother is an amazing cook, and growing up in Colorado, he made pancakes for breakfast for the family. This was his first taste of the power of good eats.

“I love food, but I love how it made everybody happy,” he recalls of those memories. 

Waiter jobs throughout college exposed him to great chefs. His passion for at-home cooking grew along with being a self-described Food Network junkie. 

But his hobby was catapulted to a new level on a tour of Italy, a year after Candelaria started his firm in 1999. 

A client wanted a Tuscan house. Neither had been to Tuscany, so they booked a trip for real-life research. A cooking class on that tour was life-changing. 

“I learned techniques, but also how cooking and being around food is an experience that binds everybody together,” he says. 

This trip was so impactful that it has become tradition.

Candelaria has done 27 tours with clients, usually 14-16 people, to places such as Spain, France, and Oregon wine country. The destinations combine architecture, food, and wine, and a cooking class is part of every adventure.

“Somehow, the food and wine always take the focus,” Candelaria says with a chuckle. 

But not all guests are clients. The reputation of those trips has reached friends of friends, and even those who have made the flight from Australia to meet them in Europe. These ventures have created long-lasting friendships among people who would have never otherwise met. 

“It’s an example of unique ways to reach people about your business that are not necessarily tied to architecture,” he says. 

But Candelaria has found a way to combine his passions and reach a larger audience with “Mark Candelaria: Homes,” his new hardcover book that features 278 stunning pages flaunting 12 of his favorite houses he’s done over the last decade. Each home is accompanied by an original recipe Candelaria carefully selected to pair with that project. It’s a coffee table, design, and cookbook all in one. 

He talks about doing a dinner at a client’s house with the design team responsible for it. They designed the Paradise Valley home 10 years ago. The homeowner sold it last year, and Candelaria organized a farewell dinner there with everyone who was involved with designing the home. 

“It was so much fun. We were thinking that’s the last time we’d all be together,” Candelaria says. After a pause he continues, “I’m getting choked up talking about it.” 

For everyday, less formal dining evenings, Candelaria comes home to his wife Isabel, who is also an avid home cook. Between the two Traeger grills and nine Instant Pots, a comforting meal is never far away.

“Tonight, we’ll get home, start cooking, talk about our day, have a glass of wine and good Bolognese, and hang out,” he says on a Thursday morning, thinking about that evening’s dinner. 

While cooking may feel like a dreaded chore for some, it actually yields a completely opposite response from Candelaria. 

“I can work all day long and have five or six people over for dinner that night. I start out exhausted, but by the time I’ve finished making dinner, I’m energized, and it rejuvenates me,” he says. “It’s a meditative thing. I’m very focused when I cook, and it takes my mind off projects. And you’re creating memories with others around food.” 


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