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Festival of Chefs

With the Tucson Festival of Books mere days away, we avid readers, locavores, and Tucson-aficionados all have quite a bit to look forward to.

March 12, 2014

With the Tucson Festival of Books mere days away, we avid readers, locavores, and Tucson-aficionados all have quite a bit to look forward to.

Each year, 2014 marking its sixth, the Festival brings a veritable bounty of authors, entertainment, vendors, food, local arts and science organizations, and general literary revelry to the University of Arizona campus. It is, truly, an event that suits the fancies of just about everyone. Fortunately for us at Edible Baja Arizona, the Festival of Books also brings a little culinary love, too. And the schedule this year is sure to leave you wanting more.

Award-winning chefs from around the country and our own Tucson kitchens will gather at the Culinary Stages for two days of book signings, talk-backs, and cooking demonstrations sure to grab the attentions of at least a few bookworms from the recesses of their Russo and O’Connor novels.

As a prelude to the main events, Edible Baja Arizona asked a few of the chefs about their experience in the field, their cooking literature, and their philosophies on buying local. Below you’ll find just a taste of what to expect should you decide to head to the UA mall this weekend (both pen and fork in hand, of course).

Rick Tramonto
tramonto

Chef Tramonto is the long-time Executive Chef and founding partner of Chicago’s Tru restaurant, and that’s not the only award-winning establishment where you can find him. Tramonto is also the culinary director of Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood and RT Sushi Bar at the Weston Hotel in Wheeling, IL. In 2012, he opened R’evolution in in New Orleans with partner and fellow chef John Folse. He has eight books to his name including Scars of a Chef, a memoir written in 2011. Tramonto was awarded “Best Chef in the Midwest” from the James Bear foundation in 2012 (among may others) and has fostered a prolific career, both here and abroad.

EBA: Tell our readers a little about yourself and your current projects. Any new books? What are your presentation goals for the Festival of Books?

RT: I am opening a restaurant in the south and another in Chicago. Details to follow soon. I am also working on a seafood book.

How about about your cookbooks and literature? Any personal favorites? What is your process for choosing a theme and compiling recipes?

My last book was a biography, Scars of a Chef, and I really enjoyed that experience. I choose my themes by what I happen to be cooking at the time. Fine Dining equals Amuse Bouche and TRU. Italian restaurant equals Fantastico and Osteria. Steakhouse equals Steak with Friends. Etcetera.

Here at Edible Baja Arizona, we emphasize food shed localization and celebrate the unique food heritage of our area. Do you have similar philosophies for your cooking and establishments?

Absolutely. In my New Orleans restaurant, R’evolution, we focus on Cajun and Creole cuisine with a modern twist on it. My partner, Chef John Folse, actually raises some of the pigs that we use in the restaurant, so utilizing local food sources is something we take very seriously.

You’ve had quite the journey up until this point (from Wendy’s to Top Chef), what event, would you say, was a turning point in setting you on the path to where you are now?

When I worked at Gotham Bar & Grill in NYC, I realized that this is what I wanted to do.

What would you say is your culinary manifesto?

My Scars of a Chef book.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know about yourself, your cuisine, or your cooking philosophy?

I am a Christian. I have learned to love the food of the south because of spending so much time in Louisiana. You have to love cooking to be able to do it everyday for the rest of your life.

Hugo Ortega
ortega

Chef Ortega is all too familiar with the value of hard work, and his career is certainly a testament to its rewards. This James Beard Award Nominee is currently the Executive Chef and co-owner of Hugo’s and Backstreet Café. Born in Mexico City, Ortega emigrated to Houston in 1984 and learned the kitchen ropes as a dishwasher and busboy for a few area establishments. Through talent, perseverance, zeal, and passion, he was quickly moved up the restaurant ranks and graduated from culinary arts school in 1992. By 1999, he was lauded as “Up & Coming Chef of the Year” by My Table Magazine. He opened Hugo’s in 2002, which has been equally praised by Gourmet and Bon Appetit.

EBA: Tell our readers a little about yourself and your current projects. Any new books? What are your presentation goals for the Festival of Books?

HO: I am from Mexico City and Puebla, Mexico. I didn’t go to high school but was able to enroll and graduate from Houston Community College in Houston. I came to Houston when I was young and worked as a janitor and dishwasher. Later I got a job on the line at Backstreet Cafe and Prego. After graduating, I became the chef at Backstreet Cafe and married in 1994. My wife and I opened Hugo’s restaurant, a regional Mexican restaurant, and recently Caracol, a Mexican coastal kitchen. I am not currently working on a book although I do have plans to write another one in the future. My presentation goals are to introduce people to the diverse culinary landscape of Mexico.

Tell us a little about your cookbook Street Food of Mexico. What was the process like?

None of our culinary team had ever written a book so we did it organically. We narrowed our focus from Mexican food to Mexican street food so that we could write something that had defined limits. However, even with that said, you always have to leave things out. We met many times to determine the scope, chapter titles, and individual recipes that we would include. When that was determined, I selected a few (usually about five) recipes to work on each week. I was very busy running two kitchens at that time so five recipes was as many as I could handle.

Here at Edible Baja Arizona, we emphasize food shed localization and celebrate the unique food heritage of our area. Do you have similar philosophies for your cooking and establishments?

Yes, we do. In many cases though the ingredients we use are hard to come by. I have made arrangements with local growers to grow particular crops just for us. We also buy some unique ingredients directly from Mexico, like cocoa beans.

You’ve had quite the journey up until this point, what event, would you say, was a turning point in setting you on the path to where you are now?

Getting the job at Backstreet was definitely a turning point in my life. I met my future wife and learned how to cook there, went to school, and graduated while working there.

What would you say is your culinary manifesto?

To honor my country through my cooking.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know about yourself, your cuisine, or your cooking philosophy?

I’d like readers to know that I am not where I am because I am an expert. I am no more of an expert on Mexican cuisine that the tens of thousands of home cooks that prepare the authentic dishes of Mexico every day. I wrote a book because it was my dream to do it. I wanted that more than anything else to prove to myself that I could accomplish that. It has been very fulfilling. I am doing what I’m doing because I love cooking and I love my country. I am cooking from the heart the food that I love. My food memories are rich with the vivid flavors of my Mexican childhood and inspired by the classical training of my culinary education and my life in the diverse city of Houston. While I left Mexico as a teenager, I always carried Mexico in my heart. My goal is to share my knowledge of and love for the rich heritage of true Mexican cuisine. My restaurants and my cookbook on Mexican street food are tributes to the cuisine of my native land and, most importantly, to its people, who keep its traditions alive, one dish at a time. When I cook, I cook for them.

Suzanne Goin

suzanne_goin_2014

Suzanne Goin, celebrated chef and restaurateur, owns and operates multiple establishments in the Los Angeles area including a.o.c., Lucques, The Larder, The Hungry Cat, and Tavern. She was named Food and Wine Magazine’s “Best New Chef of 1999” and was awarded the 2006 James Beard Award for “Best Chef: California.” Before her career took off, Goin studied at Ma Maison and, subsequently, worked under the tuteledge of chefs at multiple successful restaurants both in the U.S. and in France. Both Goin and business partner Caroline Styne still receive accolades from such publications as Los Angeles Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Gourmet, Food and Wine, Bon Appétit, and Zagat.

EBA: Tell our readers about a little about yourself and your restaurants. Any current projects you’re excited about?

SG: Since launching my first restaurant Lucques in 1998, my business partner Caroline Styne and I have enjoyed a lot of growth doing what we love, including our other restaurants a.o.c., Tavern and our Larders throughout Los Angeles. At the moment, I’m most excited about our Larder Baking Company which will bring our baked goods – that we’ve been doing for years – to a much wider audience through wholesale and retail outlets.

Any new books in the works? What are your presentation goals for the festival of books?

My latest work is The A.O.C. Cookbook, published in October and it’s been a busy year meeting people all over the country who enjoy cooking. In Tucson, I’ll get to introduce some of my favorite dishes for spring. The book is purposely designed for the seasons so there’s always something that fits for every time of year.

Tell our readers a little more about your cookbooks and literature. What is your process for choosing a theme and compiling recipes?

I based the book on the recipes and format of my second restaurant a.o.c. And because I cook very much seasonally, it only made sense to divide the book into seasons like my “Sunday Suppers at Lucques.” Just like writing a menu, when writing a cookbook it’s important to make sure to utilize all the available produce of a season but also balance light dishes with my robust and heavy ones, to provide something for vegetarians and something for meat lovers. It was hard at times to narrow down which recipes to include because, after eleven years, there are lots of favorites!

Here at Edible Baja Arizona, we emphasize food shed localization and celebrate the unique food heritage of our area. Do you have similar philosophies for your cooking and establishments?

My food is so influenced by the richness of our Southern California products and colorful cultures. I encourage all cooks to seek out the best of your own markets and local heritage to make you menus feel close to home whether influence by Italian, French, Spanish or any other cuisines.

What event, would you say, was a turning point in setting you on the path to where you are now?

I would have to say it was working at Chez Panisse. My parents turned me onto great food as a child, especially rustic and soulful French and Italian food but it was at Chez Panisse that I learned to let the local produce be the driving inspiration for what to cook. Plus, working there I was surrounded by so many amazing cooks it really was like grad school!

What would you say is your culinary manifesto?

Always cook from the heart with rigor and passion (oh, and use local ingredients!).

Anything else you’d like our readers to know about yourself, your cuisine, or your cooking philosophy?

When I cook with meats, fish and fowl, my recipes are inspired by the fruits, vegetables and grains they are paired with as much as the meats themselves. As a true omnivore, I set a goal to make it all delicious. Furthermore, it’s important to be willing to change your plan if the product isn’t perfect or not really in season. Don’t make something with stone fruits in winter; capitalize on wild fish when it’s selling fresh in the markets; use a fresh bright chard rather than wilted mustard greens if you’re making the choice and modify your menu.

Above photos, from top to bottom, by Ben Fink (Rick Tramonto), Penny De Los Santos (Hugo Ortega), and David Young-Wolff Photography (Suzanne Goin)


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