Let's be honest here: For me anyway, 2017 was awesome.
Sure it didn't start out so great, what with us somehow electing a billionaire business man who is on his third marriage and once bankrupted a casino as president, but outside of that bizarre madness I had a really good time.
A bit too good at times.
(Note: all of the pictures in this edition were submitted to the Tucson Weekly and were never used, some of which were my favorites yet didn't fit the Weekly's format. So...yeah.)
|The spread at Firefly....unreal|
2017 was also a very indulgent year for me.
It was the first full year of me being the food and beverage writer for the Tucson Weekly so I got invited to a lot of culinary events, dinners, tastings and even to be a judge a few times for competitions. This was also the year where I got jumped into the GUT (Gastronomic Union of Tucson) collective and became a viable member of the local food scene. This was also the year where I started to feel real cool about what I do and who I am. To say the least, I ate it all up.
|I totally liked this picture better than the one they used for Gus Balons|
In fact, there were times I was so busy with the Weekly, this blog, my wife, trying to be a good cat dad to Lil Poundcake and having a day job that I forgot to submit articles.
Cafe Botanica, the quaint cafe inside of the Botanical Gardens, invited me to taste some seasonal food, take some pictures and get them in an upcoming issue. I did all of that...except get them in an upcoming issue. Not too sure what happened but I, well, just kind of forgot about them. That might seem and sound mean but other articles were taking precedence and when I didn't hear from the Cafe Botanica folk (usually chefs and restaurant owners will get back to me asking when the article is going to run, these guys were silent) the article got shelved.
Sorry about that guys. That corn chowder and veggie tamale were really good.
Let's try again this summer.
|Good food but forgot to write the article...oops|
Or sometimes I would go to a place, do an interview, take pics and try their food then, poof!, they would shut down before I could write about them.
The biggest blow was the Twisted Tandoor.
I have been a fan of their food for years so after Mukhi's death, when their brick and mortar finally got its reality, you have no idea how excited I was to feature them. Roop (Mukhi's widow and owner of Twisted Tandoor) and I hung out, I got to take a lot of awesome pics and eat their incredible Indian inspired food. A week or two later I get news that the restaurant had shut down due to various unforeseeable problems, so I had to move on to another feature. Sucks man.
Thing is that Roop has revitalized the old Twisted Tandoor food truck and will be starting that up soon. When she does you better believe I will be there and getting them in the Weekly. And here probably.
Heck...let's get them in everywhere! Yes the food really is that good.
Did I tell you that Mukhi once offered me a job cooking with him on his truck? Yeah. Dude was so cool.
I miss that smile of his.
|Amazing food but never got the chance to write an article|
If you know me then you definitely know this: I rarely go downtown.
For me, as a food writer, that whole arena speaks for itself. Other flashy magazines and websites spend a lot of time focusing on the downtown culinary scene, and its great, but I prefer the funky off the well paved paths options of dining discoveries.
But I will say this, every time I do go downtown, or 4th Avenue, I always have a great time and eat some amazing food.
So thank you for all of the chefs, cooks and owners that invited me or allowed me to pop into your place, sample the goods and then write about it.
|Ben and the HUB crew, rockin' it|
I'd say some of the highlights had to include the spread that Bin An set up for me at his place MiAn, this upscale sushi concept on Broadway. I ate Peking duck tacos, fire roasted sushi rolls, buttery sashimi and this caviar oyster shooter that tasted like the ocean. So good.
The sushirito at PokeZone was a beast but a lot of fun to eat. The fact that chef Ben Caballero of HUB loves tater-tots as much as I do is always a plus. The jackfruit torta at Even Steven's was a sticky, delicious mess. And, of course, the vegan divinity at Urban Fresh makes me not miss meat at all. At. All! Everything there is so good and you can taste the care and attention to their inventive daily specials. How those kids do it....I don't know.
But cheers all to holding it up downtown. I'll try to get out there more often.
|Great pic, didn't get used|
One thing about writing for a locally popular newspaper and website is dealing with the comments section.
Hoo doggies! I go from the occasional comment that a friend or my mom makes on this blog to hundreds of thousands of readers either hating or putting up with my style of culinary journalism.
So far the biggest hate I got is when I featured Old Chicago.
Look, they were celebrating 20 years of being here in Tucson, they were giving away free food for their birthday, they are named after a pinball machine not the city, a lot of people don't know they are corporate but the rest that do know that they are corporate chimed in with some visceral begrudgery.
Yes, I used to work there. Yes, my wife still does. But here's the thing: it's a solid company that takes care of their employees and puts out a decent product. The Weekly was still in the transitional phase of the last writer, who loved to nitpick and point out every single detail of flaws, to me who likes to tell stories and let you decide for yourself if the place is good or not.
That's why the Weekly hired me.
Sorry....but you're stuck with me for a while Tucson.
|Ah the hate I got for featuring Old Chicago|
The other incident that comes to mind is a bit harsher.
For my first cover story I got to write about the three major distilleries here in southern Arizona. Hamilton is right off of FT. Lowell and produces the Del Bac whiskey series, winning all kinds of awards and national (now international) acclaim. Three Wells makes locally harvested vodka and gin and this cactus fruit liquor that is at once unique and very brandy-esque.
Then....there is the Independent.
What I had gathered is that the Independent was a local distillery that is also a bar downtown. I emailed them, I got contact names, I set up a time to do an interview and take photos and that is, looking back anyway, my biggest mistake.
Turns out everyone that I talked to, including the manager, weren't involved in the distilling process at all. In fact, they later made off with a bunch of money and are being sued by the real owners. The whole time I was there something felt off so I gave the Independent the least amount of words since they were chatting up the bar element and not the distilled product.
When the cover story hit, the guy/manager I spoke with wrote a very long and very upset post on social media calling me a liar, that I got everything wrong, that I did not represent the Independent at all, that I...
Listen. All I did was show up, take pictures, do an interview, transcribe that interview and wrote what was given to me. Unfortunately the interview was on an old phone so I have absolutely no proof but...still. Wow. What a mess.
So that was a big blow. And for my first cover story too!
|Ah, the hate I got from these guys for, well...writing about them|
But the very few negative vibes coming my way in 2017 was only offset by the 99% of awesome that outshined the negative.
Although my blog here, the dear old Homeskillet, has taken a backseat to my duties at the Weekly but I really hope that will change now that I am comfortable in my role as the Chow writer and I plan on scaling down the Homeskillet a bit to meet with my schedule and try to get out more fun stuff to you guys.
Can't really pinky swear on it but I will do my best.
|So lucky to have eaten so much deliciousness|
The food is great. Being a part of a wonderful and hardworking community is even better. But you know what is best about what I do? Its meeting and making friends with so many awesome people that are just as food obsessed as I am.
A big standout is Emily Peterson, aka the Beer Geek Bakery, who makes 'beer kissed goodies' out of ingredients that go into beer. She then pairs them at local breweries and beer houses and the combo of a pastry made with the same grains that went into a stout or ale is stunning. Best thing is she is a total nerd and goofball and everytime we hang out its like we were high school buddies that just never really grew up. And I like that.
Plus when she sent me a 'Happy Burt-day' message featuring a nude image of Burt Reynolds for my birthday, I quickly responded with "I almost bought a jigsaw puzzle in Texas with that same image but it was $50 and didn't and now its the biggest regret of my life" which morphed into a texting battle of shaming and fun.
So yeah. Emily is rad.
|Emily and pal doing what they do best|
Outside of all of the GUT chefs such as Travis Peters, Mat Cable, Michael Elefante, Devon Sanner and Gary Hickey, whom I all consider good pals, it was really cool making a connection with local butcher Ben Forbes.
To me, what he does and how he does it is total punk rock. And he kind of reminds me of Milo from the band The Descendants. Again, every time we run into each other its like we're old friends. Plus the meat and sausage this guy procures is staggeringly fantastic. And he's a social media whore just like me.
So he's got that going for him.
Hopefully 2018 will bring about some cool people I can call a buddy. But, for now, I'm real happy with the ones I got.
|Ben and slab, in repose|
There is one thing I do want to say though, and come clean about:
Because of the earlier mentioned indulgence, I have put on a bit of excess belly weight.
All of the restaurants, all of the chefs, all of the food, all of the booze...I ate and drank it all. It being my first year as the Weekly food writer, when things came my way you better believe that I dove into it full Metal Mark style and didn't give two fxxks. Heck, I sampled 23 separate plates of food being a judge at the Bacon Fest. Heck yeah I did!
But consider this: I am now 47 years old, tried joining a gym but didn't have the time, my metabolism isn't what it used to be and the gorging of 2017 has taken its toll...especially 'round the middle.
Yes. I have gotten jolly plump, enough where some shirts and shorts don't fit like they used to. So now it is time for me to relax, enjoy the goodness when it does come my way but to ease up a little. I've already cut back on my drinking and going out to bars, so I hope that helps, but the intake of rich and starchy food has to quiet a bit as well. I am going to try and be as active as I can even with a pretty sit down heavy day job and slowly delve into a regular exercise routine. But its has to be gradual, can't just Jillian Michaels myself right off the bat. It's going to take time but I hope by summer I can wear some of my favorite shirts again.
Hey. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.
|Let's hope 2018 is just as tasty|
That said, I want to thank all of you for continually reading my stuff and for making me feel cool, even though I am a shut in these days when I'm not out discovering new places to eat, meeting talented cooks and bartenders and generally sending out my love of Tucson and all that it offers.
The food here is incredible, so is the beer, and the culinary scene is abundant and starting to pick up and get some big time media attention which is way cool. But its you guys that make me do what I do in the first place which is writing about you and trying to get the word out on how super duper it all is.
Again, thank you for all you've done for me, my blog and the Weekly this past year. You all rule.
So here's to 2017!
Let's make 2018 even better shall we?
|Are you raising your glass? Because I already raised mine. Sheesh...|
Eating, Drinking and General Mirth Making
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
2017 and Beyond!