Sunday, July 7, 2019

Cool Treats To Beat The Summer Heat




I am not a snob. Well...not much of one. Okay, I am a little. Especially when it comes to chain concepts and corporate restaurants.

Like Starbucks has some good stuff but I'd rather go to my neighborhood coffee joint for an eggy bagel sandwich and a tall iced coffee (just a splash of milk please). Not only does it usually taste better but it just makes me feel better. You know, supporting local, helping out the little guy. Or gal. Or gender non-specific. You get where I am going here...

So when I got an email from the PR firm behind Nekter, a juice bar I have only walked or driven by with no intentions of going in because, yep, it's a chain, to try some of their new summer treats at first I was thrilled. But then I had my concerns.

Now, when I did his Dunkin' Donuts media event a few months ago I had the same reaction: 'Hey thanks for the invite...but it's probably going to suck'.

Turns out the Dunkin' event was a blast, I got a lot of cool free stuff and the spring line of donuts were awesome. Knowing that and putting my pettiness aside, I responded with a "I'd be delighted!"

So on a very hot afternoon, I made my way to the Nekter on Grant Ave. to see what all of this "juice" and "smoothie" and "healthy cleanse" business was all about. On a wider spread scale though...



Okay Nekter...let's see what you got

When I walked in I was immediately greeted by district manager, Chris Crawford, who, just a day earlier had been in a bit of a slam bang in her car. Trying to avoid a racoon, in her new car, Chris swerved and went off the road and slammed into a pole. But, here she was, smiling and eager to get me sampling some of the Nekter goodies.

I like that work ethic. So I was impressed from the get go.

Since I lead a rather "interesting" life as a food writer, I was drawn to Nekter's "Toxin Flush" juice blend. A swirl of fresh spinach, parsley, apples, lemon juice and pungent ginger, it looked intimidating by being so darn green and quite mossy. It smelled potent too. Oh man, was this "heath" stuff going to kill me?

It's a distinct possibility.

The taste was something I am not used to but after the second chug I was pretty much hooked. I could instantly feel the healing properties of that blender spun elixir. My body, not going to lie, kind of buckled under the weight of such freshness and cleansing glory, but it was also thanking me. I do believe the night before I was sampling (ok, I was straight drinking) beers from a newly formed brewery set to open here in Tucson. The owners were also big fans of single malt scotch so after a pint or three, out came the tumblers filled with the oaky hued devilry. To say the least, my pushing 50 body needed a bit of saving. Thank you Toxin Flush!



Hoo doggies...this stuff is really good


Next up was a superfood smoothie called the Berry Banana Burst. This calmed my palate down a bit from the astringency from the Toxin Flush with a merry mash of blueberries, strawberries, agave nectar, housemade cashew milk and, yes, bananas.  Now I know that smoothies cause a dividing line between those that love them and those that think smoothie drinkers are privileged yoga hipsters who enjoy gentrifying neighborhoods to meet with their standards, but I am here to tell you I really don't care about either side. Because the triple B was double plus delicious.

I stand on the firm territory of all things yum and thankfully, so far, all that Nekter has been putting in front of me, via manager Chris, has been awesome. Maybe its my California rearing and living for 30+ years that has made me reluctant to dive head fast into the blended health mash so adored by moms, or dads, donning babybjorns and complaining that their vegan bacon tastes "too much" like the real deal, but I might have to don ironic thick eyeglasses and arrive on my bike made entirely of recycled penguin blubber to get more of this stuff. Or not. I don't care anymore. This stuff is tasty.

Next up was one of Nekter's handcrafted bowls, and I opted to give the Dragon Fruit variety. First they blend a compound consisting of dragon fruit (obviously), bananas, pineapple with butter and water via coconut into an almost froyo consistency. It is then topped with hempseed granola, coconut flakes, strawberries, more bananas, more pineapple and agave nectar. That's right....hempseed granola. You heard correct. Get over it, this was mad refreshing, almost better than froyo. Thats "frozen yogurt" for you non-froyo rubes out there. This was fun, slightly stunning, cool and, lets just be honest, making me feel better. How? By not being craft beer or slow roasted pig and game for a spell. My aging body needed this moment. A brief time in some lush berry refrigerant replete with more agave sweetness. I actually like this. Am I going to be some midlife crisis juice bar patron who suddenly becomes aware of his mortality and viscerally gives into the whims of mass marketed body benefits due to quick blended nuts, berries and penguin blubber? Probably.

Its just good is all.

Finally, Nekter has something called "skoops", which are vegan, non dairy, gluten free, anti-refined sugar frozen treats. Are. You. Fxxking. Kidding. ME?

Whatever man. Lets delve hacky sack first into this gawdam ish as I really can't stand it anymore. What did I get you ask? The coconut vanilla skoop. That's right...some blend of coconut milk, Madagascar vanilla, even MORE agave nectar then finished with pure sea salt with the addition of some blue and straw berries along with a sprinkle of that colon cleansing granola. How was it?

Crap. Good. It was good! All of it was good. Was it because it was free? No. I get lots of free food and drinks and sometimes hate, hate!, what I have to swallow on spec. This stuff? I liked. A lot. So you'll probably see me at a Nekter near you at some point.

You so very well will.

Just don't say anything to me when you do. Its not out of shame. Far from it. It is out of submission.

You got me Nekter. You win.




A detox power blend...yes I seriously needed this


I want to thank all involved for converting me to the powers that be the blended mercy for these guts, brain and inner works of mine in so need of the occasional "healthy" cleanse to ease me into the late afternoon of my life career. Since this visit, I have been back twice, TWICE!, seeing as they gave me a plastic tumbler equipped with a straw with the promise of a discount because of said ownership of plastic tumbler emblazoned with the word NEKTER on the side.

It sits in my car, waiting. Hopeful. And to be honest with you, I don't care who knows. At this point, I want them to know. I want to be free. Pushing 50, I need balance. So when some stumbling chode outside of a dark watering hole inquired about my Nekter vessel, asking if I hated all things right and true with the current state of the nation, I just put two fingers to his cigarette balmed lips and whispered:

"Shh...if you only knew my friend. If you only knew..."

Then got in my car in search of something called the Turmeric Sunrise. Or the Mango Delight.

I don't care.

Just don't ask.

Or look at me.

Thanks!

Also, Nékter reveals all things watermelon this summer. They roll out Watermelon Cooler Juice, a hydrating watermelon drink with a touch of cooling, fresh mint; and the Watermelon Berry Smoothie, a light and refreshing blend bursting with the flavors of the season — watermelon, sweet strawberries, lime chia seeds and a touch of agave nectar.
 
The season gets even juicier come July with the mouthwatering watermelon tasting event on Saturday, July 27 at the Nékter Juice Bar location at 2501 East Grant Road. From 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., guests can cool off and refresh with in-store tastings of fresh watermelon juices and smoothies, Skoop flavors, and more.

See you there!


Thank you Nekter!



Camera, Typing and Rethinking His Opinion About Chain Juice Bars
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
A 105 degree Afternoon, 2019

Metal Influence: 





Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Yeah baby...yeah!



In 1997, riding off of his success from Saturday Night Live and its subsequent dual rock comedy punch known as "Wayne's World", Mike Myers delivered a movie inspired by late 60s British spy films, better known as "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery".

I know you've seen it. We've all seen it. It was one of those cultural cinematic "fxxk its" that seemed to arrive out of nowhere during the era of ebbing grunge that brought the aging post punk/baby boomer generations into a glory spiral filled with images and appropriations of an era not that long past. The memory hole is a tough one to get out of, such as Pitfall Harry sucked into the 8 bit tar pit in the infamous, and aptly named, Atari game "Pitfall".

You see what I did there? I brought us all back.

Like a time machine.

An evil time machine?

The Diet Coke of evil perhaps...


Brewmaster Allen and his cryogenic creations

The good folks of 1912 Brewery, most notably owners and brewers Alicia and Allen Conger, both proud military veterans, are such devoted fans of the Austin Powers franchise that they decided to theme their 4th year anniversary after the beloved series.

When they opened their operation, publicly, on July 4th 2015, they did so with a vision to bring a different angle to the growing beer brewing community here in Tucson. Mainly to focus on the effervescent qualities of the difficult to manage sour brews, especially within the Gose variety.

As a usual fan and quaffer of hoppy or citrusy beers, it took me a spell to get developed in to the ideal that 1912 was delving on a higher delivery. But once I gave in and accepted, I was an instant fan. It takes a certain palate and even some form of patience to appreciate the effort it maintains to seethe and develop ales based around fruity aspects, honing past malted wheat that spirals into tart bites and even astringent overtones.

That sounds totally pretentious but...sorry. Its true. Bare with me here.

So when Alicia and Allen invited me to sample their beers for their 4th anniversary, a party set to pop on Saturday July 6th, I was more than willing to leave the nest for a second, giving my Instagraming of our cat Lil Poundcake a break. I totally concurred doctor.

Now to present to you, the reading and drinking public of the Tucson Homeskillet, are the fantastic brews in store for you this summer to commemorate 1912's fourth birthday....by ways of the International Man of Mystery.

This is your bag. Baby.



Fook me?

In the third Austin Powers installment, "Goldmember", we were introduced to a pair of Asian hot to trots going by the names Fook Me and Fook Yu. Get it? Yeah baby. Kinda like Alotta Fagina and Felicity Shagwell, plays off of actual Bond characters such as Pussy Galore and Octopussy, etc etc.

1912's 'Fook Me' is a Gose style flavored with pineapple, orange, lemon, carrots, lemon and lime. Oh man, was it good. The fruity coincidences are all there, collaborating into a foam broth of subtle, yet niche, complexity.

We were, as they enjoy reminding, off to a very groovy start.



Fook Yu!

Since we are pairing off with a grand set of twins, to follow was their 'Fook Yu', a yielding scope melding Asian pear juice the dry hopped with bourbon soaked ginger. Yeah. It was like that.

Imagine a follow up to a twin sister/brother/gender non-specific other/piranha fish lazer fantasy you have been so recklessly harboring (you cheeky monkey!), sort of like a happy ending route equipped by some tart rainbow elite squad lead by bubbly ground squirrels armed with caustic suds bazookas.

Sorta like that. But without the need for clean up on aisle zoo reference.

But better.

Smashing!


Sorry, That Never Happens...I Swear


This option...was a lot of naughty fun. Sort of like watching Skinemax after dealing with some dude speaking Paris talk and stuff down at the video arcade who was hassling you because you don't speak French or whatever. It was cool.

A quote stemming from the craggy British grilled protagonist, apologizing for a uncontrolled bulge during a rather inappropriate setting, "Sorry That Never Happens...I Swear!", is a Gose style beer that has a deep purple (Deep Purple? Groovy baby!) color, flavored with elderberries and blueberries with hints of lime and cinnamon.

A subtly tart sipper that would make any FemBot's head explode.

It is that shagadelic!




Zippy Longstocking

Now lets examine, and drink, ex-zip-it A here.

The "Zippy Longstocking" is a German inspired wheat beer fermented with a wild yeast blend provided by Texas laboratory cultures. Not too sure what that means exactly, but after a few sips all I could say is Zip it! And zip it good!

The flavor profile you get wields banana, citrus, cloves with a hovering notion of vanilla.

This is the kind of 1912 brew you need to be drinking while listening to Burt Bacharach.

Or Foxxy Cleopatra.

Or anything on BBC 1.

Regardless of how you enjoy it, the Zippy Longstocking will definitely get your mojo working.



A Mojito beer? Oh behave!


And speaking of mojo, well...mojito, the 1912 evil geniuses have brought back a fan favorite, "Got My Mojito Back Again", in time for their anniversary and Austin Powers' themed event.

This one will really freak you out because it has all of the elements that an actual mojito cocktail has. Just don't do what I did and slam it down hard. The intense key lime and mint essence there is sound as a pound, a real shindig for your tastebuds, so take your time with this one.

With all of this amazing pussycat swinger fare, it looks as if 1912's celebration on Saturday July 6th is going to be better than...ONE MILLION DOLLARS!


But wait...there's more!


Shhhhhhh...you're not supposed to know about this

The Conger's are going to unveil 2 or 3 new brews exclusive to their 4 Year Anniversary shindig that they are not even mentioning. Yet.

But they said go ahead and just teeeeeease it a little in my blog.

So I am. And here you go. Gonna throw you a friggin' bone.

Fortunate me I had a taster of the beer things to come this weekend and all I can say is:

"Yeah baby!"

See you there.

And thank you Allen, Alicia and everyone at 1912!

You are all so very, very groovy baby. Ow!


Smashing!




Camera, Typing and Oh Behave!
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
4th of July Week, 2019

Metal Influence: 



Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lions and Tigers and Beer...Oh My!




One of my all-time favorite things about living in Tucson is the Reid Park Zoo. The wife and I go there at least twice a year, when the weather is awesome, not only to support it but to check in with some of our four legged friends. Me hailing from the bay area in California, I am a bit partial to the otters. But seeing Nandi, the baby elephant, grow up is also fun to watch. Pretty soon she will have a brother or sister, one coming in 2020! As are the giraffes, bears, capybaras, tigers and the lions (when they are awake). For a few bucks it is the perfect way to spend a few hours in the afternoon. I mean, c'mon...its a zoo!

Another factor for my love of Tucson, outside of the food, is our expanding craft beer culture. As a food writer I am lucky to attend lots of tastings and events, even getting to know and be friends with some of the brewers. So when I got the invitation to attend a beer event at the Reid Park Zoo, all I could do is squeal in happy anticipation.

Brew at the Zoo happened on Saturday June 15th from 6:30pm-9:30 pm, just as the sun went down and the shady meadows of the zoo cooled down a relatively hot day. The event helped fund the zoo's educational programs and by the look of the attending crowd, I sure hope they brought in enough capital to fund them for the next few years.


Entering the zoo, we were really happy to see most of the nocturnal animals out, such as the lions, but seeing as it was still pretty warm they were just lamping on their tiered wood hangout and not doing much. in fact, most creatures were awake and putting on a show, so that was fun to see. But, okay, the animals we've seen. Now lets get down to the real crux of the evening:

Beer!

Brew at the Zoo featured twenty-two (22!!!) breweries this year and we couldn't wait to get started. Our first stop was with our friends at Ten 55. Without asking, they filled up the silicone 6oz cup everyone got at the front entrance. I guess I wasn't really paying attention, but when I turned to see who I cut in front of, it was then I noticed a line at least 50 people deep. Minimum. Wow. Ten 55 is great and it was cool to see that the response for them was that wide.

Making our way around the zoo to the other vendors, including Thunder Canyon, Sentinal Peak, SanTan, Pueblo Vida, Mother Road, Huss Brewing, Harbottle, Green Feet, Grand Canyon Brewing Company, Dragoon, Dillinger, Copper Mine, Copper Brothel, Catalina, Button, Borderlands, Barrio, 12West and 1912 along with Booch Craft, which is a high alcohol kombucha, it became very obvious very quick that each brewery had a line just as long. Holy moley! I mean, it was great to see so many people coming out and supporting the zoo but, man, waiting at least 20-30 minutes for a 6oz pour of beer? Uhhh...

A good buddy at one of the breweries told me that he had never worked so hard. Just pouring beer. For about 4 hours. And that is saying a lot because he does a lot of events here in Tucson and abroad.

Now and then I would see a line that wasn't too bad, got my fill, drink it, then ponder standing in another line for another 6oz taste.

As it got darker, the crowd thickened and my wife and friends, along with me, decided to call it. One line literally wrapped all the way around the Tanzania Experience elephant enclosure, summoning at least a 30-45 minute wait.

Writing this blog post I feel as if I am being ungrateful, which is the complete opposite. Thank you thank you thank you Reid Park Zoo for allowing me to come in, take shots and give my love and support to you and your educational outreach. I love you guys and will see you in the autumn when we can cruise around with the animals while sipping hot chocolate. But as a guy dealing with weird social anxiety, I just couldn't do the lines. So I'll have to enjoy the beers at home or at my favorite craft beer bar or even in the tasting rooms at the featured breweries!

Cheers to all of the visiting and local breweries that killed it that night. You kids put your nose to the stone and made everyone feel welcome and happy, even if it took a while to get there.

And thank you once again Reid Park Zoo for letting me come and experience Brew at the Zoo. Hopefully by the amount of paying customers there, and there were a lot!, you secured some funding for your programs. Congratulations.

And now some photos.

Check it out...





Yay!

Wow...great turn out

The first (and almost last) beer of the night, for me anyway

Big Sherm puttin' in work

I thought the line started here...ah, no

Rewarding folks for their patience...with beer!

As the sun went down, the crowd went up

Its a beautiful night for cold craft beer

Beer+Pretzel=Yes

One of my favorite IPAs...it was worth the wait

Most people didn't seem to mind the queues

Thanks Reid Park Zoo!



Camera, Typing and Very Grateful for the Invitation
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
A Beautiful Pre Summer Night, 2019

Metal Influence: 


 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

There Can Be Only One!




When I was a kid, seeing TV spots and newspaper ads for sunscreen, water park tickets (I grew up in LA), new Kool Aid flavors and trailers for blockbuster movies only meant one thing:

Summer.

For three whole months all I would do was play video games (in an actual arcade...I'm old!), skateboard, ride my bike, go to said water parks, level up my characters in D&D and spend a week or two away at camp. The warm bliss of those times were nothing short of brief miracles...which were cut short by TV spots and newspaper ads for all that "Back to School!" crap in August. But then that only meant Halloween was near by. With Thanksgiving arriving shortly after. Which could only mean Xmas was to round off the year with gifts, lights and all that holly jolly frivolity.

New Years was okay. Valentine's Day sucked. St. Patrick's Day...meh...

Oh. Sorry. Getting off track here.

Point is, when you graduate and move into all that adult nonsense, summer really doesn't mean that much anymore. Not like it did when you were a kid. Right? To me, living in San Francisco for many years, summer meant the tourists were coming and parking got even more intolerable. But then when I moved to Tucson, summer meant "Sweet Jesus...when is it NOT going to be 100+ degrees? Did you see my power bill? Yeah! Insane! Well at least the students and snowbirds are gone! Let me tell you, back in my day..."

You see, when you grow up, unfortunately summer means something completely different. Here in the Sonoran desert, its almost a burden. Yeah, its hot. Really hot. Yeah, your electric bill is like a mortgage payment.

But, yeah, it also means that its time for badass food festivals!

During the rest of the season, our beloved chefs are working overtime to feed those students, and snowbirds, trying to make them happy, putting in long hours, planning menus to appease the masses and just trying to get home at a decent time to see their family, have a beer and, for fxxks sake, get some sleep!

But when summer hits, hey!, the city is ours again...so lets have some fun!

For me, just like a kid watching commercials for shorts and t-shirts on sale at Sears or seeing that in TV guide all of my favorite shows were in reruns, when I get the invite to the annual Pizza Throwdown, I get that same dopey giddiness as a young suburban dork ready to hit the skate parks, get high score on Donkey Kong and, finally, try and get my stupid elf fighter/thief to level 10. Its so hard. Especially when I keep getting low rolls for my experience at the end of a module. Grrr!!!

2019 marks the 5th season for the Throwdown and, let me tell you, it was probably my favorite. Years previous had most of the contestants work inside Fresco Pizza and Pastaria, the host location since the inception, which usually proved for a cramped and difficult to maneuver environment. As the popularity of the Throwdown grew, last year's event was pretty elbow to elbow, with chefs having to run back and forth from the kitchen among the hungry throng of packed patrons, sort of like trying to exit an overstuffed elevator when you have reached your floor.

This year though was seamless. All of the contestants, including Mama Louisa's, Empire, Shifty's, Gourmet Girls, Dominick's, Upper Crust, Fiamme, Trident, Fresco and reigning champion Rocco's, along with Dante's Fire and The Dutch serving up some sweet desserts, were all tented outside allowing room for patrons to grab the goods, move indoors, if they wanted to, to eat and drink beer away from the afternoon heat.

I myself was too stoked to even consider taking my slice, and beer, away from the participants as I like to chat up what they were offering along with their process. All I can say is that after sampling one of each, and beers from Barrio, Crooked Tooth and Dillinger, I felt more elated than when I kissed that cute girl Kate at camp, even when she even moved in a bit of tongue giving me my first 'French' experience at age 11. Plus I was full. And the food at summer camp sucked.

The combinations and creativity this year were unsurpassed. Sure you're supposed to vote for your favorite, but seeing as I am the writer/blogger here and friends with a good support of the culinary lineup, I let the others do their duty while I remained impartial. On top of it all, I just couldn't decide. They were all so so delicious.

But in the end, there can be only one. Well, top three.

The winners were: 3rd place, Rocco's. 2nd place, Fresco. And in first...Fiamme!

Congratulations kids! You all earned it. And deserve it.

And thank you to the rest of the competing chefs. It was all so amazing. Like I said, I really couldn't pick a winner. This was the toughest, and tastiest, year so far.

Cheers to Tucson Originals for the invite and I can't wait for next year's Throwdown.

You see, being an adult doesn't mean you can't be excited for fun stuff in the summer. You just have to harness that youthful energy into a new happy cataclysm.

For me its pizza.

And beer.

And, yeah, the students and snowbirds are gone for a few months. Tucson is ours again!

Thanks everybody.

Now lets check out the photos from this years Pizza Throwdown!

Enjoy...



Here we go!

Oh, it is so on

A good crowd outside

And a good (if not slightly cooler) crowd inside

That balsamic drizzle on Dominick's pizza was outstanding

Elote pizza from Empire and a frosty brew from Crooked Tooth = heaven

As Upper Crust chats up their pizza, Bobbie from Dante's sizes up the oncoming, and hungry, crowd

Scott Volpe from Fiamme, literally the hardest working pizzaiolo anywhere

So happy to hear that Mat from Fresco is putting the 'Umami Tsunami' on his regular menu

The Rocco's crew surveying their award winning, and Guy Fieri approved, pizza

Marcus from The Dutch making mini pancakes in pans used for ebelskivers

How is that crust gluten free? So good!

It was hot. Ice cream melts. Didn't matter. It was yummy.

"But Mikey...where is the Joe's Special pizza?"


Nevermind, this is what Mama Louisa's served up this year, yeah...

Matty from Shifty's after I said I was going to steal that skate deck of his. Ha!



Camera, Typing and Feelin' Cheesy 
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
A Warm Late Spring Afternoon, 2019

Metal Influence:



Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Hello, Chef!




My disdain for casinos started back in the early 90s.

A group of us would travel from wherever we were living in California, meet up in Las Vegas and party till we were almost dead. Being young and invincible meant trying to relive moments we saw in raucous comedies, read about from gonzo journalists and, well, just trying to keep up with the extreme amount of booze available 24 hours a day.

Navigating a sensory blitzkrieg that is an active casino, flush with flashing machines spewing aural numbing noises as throbbing numbers rise out of burning pirate ships and the immense cleavage of saucy girls dressed as bikini clad Indian princesses in a stumble that is akin to a sinister hedge maze, with matching kaleidoscopic carpeting, after numerous tequila bombs and something called "The Beer Gully Gulp Intruder" while the medicated Gummy Bears kick in can prove a bit strenuous to those not accustom to that lifestyle.

And its obvious that people go to casinos on a regular basis. They have that look, that wild desperate plea in their gait and gaze that reads: 'Just one more, the next hand will have it!' Plus I hate the stench of stale cigarette smoke so entering those vibrating rape arcades always reminds me of the basement of my friend's weird uncle, where he would let us drink cheap beer at 9 years old and always had a firm stack of 'beaver brochures' behind that weirdly dirty couch we were always afraid to sit on.




After a long drive to the casino, I needed a snack and a strong beer


Casino del Sol isn't as bad as the off kilter gambling disasters in cities such as Laughlin or south Lake Tahoe, but it's close enough. It's set up like all the others; the machines are positioned in such a way that you HAVE to sit and stare and push buttons and give them all your money, the smoke reek is only because the air is piped in, not sucked out as the extra oxygen infused in the circulating system helps keep even the most inebriated player awake enough to continue gambling away the family's small inheritance.

It's a science, and a clever one at that.

But, as always, just once a year, I endure the aching thrill tickle of the casino because (mercifully) the 'Meet the Chef' event is always held outdoors, a tasting preview preceding the knockdown culinary boxing match, Iron Chef Tucson




Long line to get in


This time around, only 6 Tucson chefs have thrown their toques into the ring in hopes of bringing down reigning Iron Chef champ, Brian Smith of Maynard's Market + Kitchen.

Now, I say only 6 because originally it was supposed to be 8, but it looked like Robert of R&R BBQ and Kyle from Prep & Pastry/Commoner & Co. either dipped out or just couldn't make it.

Now let me say this: Only 8.

Last year there were at least a dozen chefs competing for the title and bragging rights to be the next Tucson Iron Chef. With the ever gaining momentum of our culinary scene, now that Tucson is getting national, and world wide, attention on a regular basis, you'd think there would be a gaggle of chefs on the roster...a gaggle!

But, nope. 6.

Doesn't matter, the 6 that showed up are totally bad ass. So let's do this!



And long lines to get food


The 2019 competitors include chefs Adam Puckle of The Cafe in Sonoita, Kenneth Foy of Dante's Fire, Wendy Gauthier of Chef Chic, Javier Martinez of The Glowbal in the Sheraton Hotel, Alan Lambert of The DoubleTree Hilton and Mary Steiger of Gourmet Girls.

Chefs Puckle, Lambert and Martinez I have never met before, but the other three I run into on a fairly regular basis. In fact, I featured chef Wendy in the Tucson Weekly about a year ago, so we're pretty tight. So to speak.

Also this year the event sold out, so there were hundreds of people out on the field by the swimming pool. The amount of bodies nearly hid the six tables set up with the chefs and their team scrambling to get small plates of food out.

I've never been invited to be a judge, which would be totally awesome, but I wasn't surprised to see my buddy Adam Lehrman, founder of Tucson Foodie, as one of the judges. Those Foodie kids get all the Tucson food love. Weirdos like me hustling with the blog and the Weekly get an occasional nod, which is way cool, but I would like to figure out how to get more involved without having to kiss too many butts to do so.

Whatever. I love doing what I do.

But there is always next year Iron Chef Tucson!

Just sayin'...




BEER!  And it didn't cost nothin'...


One thing that I was so grateful for, outside of the invite (yeah, I know what I just said) and press pass was the fact that the event started at 5:30pm and not noon, as it usually is. Last few years the participants and guests sweated it out on so many different levels. Mainly because it was so hot. Late May at Casino del Sol in Tucson usually means temps near the high 90s.

Not this year.

Even if it did start at noon this year, the weather was more than forgiving. It had recently rained, the sky was cloudy, even sometimes dark and the wind, if not a bit punishing, was cool and welcoming. So it made standing in those never ending lines a lot more tolerable. Plus each patron got a 6 drink punch card, which equaled to large sample cups of beer from Stella Artois, Four Peaks and Estrella Jalisco. If you wanted a full beer or cocktail then you'd have to pay. Seeing as I was far from home and my drinking of late has cooled down to a tolerable volume, I wasn't tempted.

But when I overheard someone in line ask "What's a chorizo?" I seriously thought about one of those tequila bombs from Vegas visits past.

Ugh.




DRONE! And,why...?


With the barely 70 degree weather happening, I walked around the grounds getting a feel of what was to come. Not too sure if there was a mass email going out, but it seemed like most of the chefs used shrimp in their dishes. Chef Mary, Wendy, Alan and Javier all used the ductile lil' sea bug as a component.

I didn't mind. But a few paying customers raised a voice here and there because there was so much shrimp.

"It's not even shrimp season!"

"Is this some kind of shrimp challenge?"

"That shrimp better be non-GMO and gluten free!"

Again...where was that tequila bomb?



Chef Javier in the zone


I've never been to The Glowbal in the Sheraton but after sampling chef Javier's tostadas I planned on getting out there. The menu seems like an uncomplicated array of heightened staples such as wings, burgers, pizzas and steaks with a slight southwest touch to it. I like that.

When menus get out of control with extended elevations, re-imaginings and deconstructions of comfort food, I not only get bored but I get a little put off by the show off.

With that said, I hope the $16 burger at The Glowbal is worth it. Maybe I'll get a lapdance for that reach of cash to eat a burg.

One can only hope.



Sweet yummness from chef Brian


Chef Brian is kind of on fire right now. Not literally (I hope) but in the sense that not only is he the reigning Iron Chef Tucson but he is currently in China representing not just Tucson but the whole USofA in a food and wine festival in Yantai. So rad.

Which meant he wasn't at the Meet the Chefs event. Oh well.

That just means that after getting back from cooking in China he'll have to strap the apron back on and try to keep his title as Iron Chef.

Good luck Brian.

And way to fxxking go!




Slide(r) on up to chef Adam


Adam Puckle cooks down in Sonoita, like a good hour south of the home base, so getting to him is a straight up day trip. But I'm gonna do it. No really, I am! Not that lazy. Jeeze.

Chef Adam had these lamb sliders that were so good, he easily had the longest, and longest running, line all day. He handled the pressure with a big grin behind that ginger beard of his and he seemed to be having a blast.

That attitude alone, along with the delicious food, will get me up off this chair, turn off the laptop and start driving. I just hope when I get there that his restaurant isn't closed.

That would suck.



Chef Wendy in deep concentration


This is honestly the best picture I got of chef Wendy all day as she was a tornado of movement and activity. I hope when she sees this that she wont get too mad thinking I got her at the teetering edge of a breakdown. There was just a lot going on. But she's used to it because this is her third (3rd?) attempt at going for the Iron Chef honor.

Last I heard she was in the top three in the race. Woohoo!

That's great because her corn panna cotta and pickled shrimp salad was amazing.

Go get 'em Wendy!



More girl power from chef Mary


Chef Mary of Gourmet Girls gave us a bit of sweet and savory. That was really appreciated.

What is also awesome is that she cooks, and bakes 100% gluten free, but that does not impede the texture and flavor of her food. At all.

Last I heard as well Mary was top three in the running.

I can hear Queen Latifa's "Ladies First" playing in the distance.

Can't you?

If not, just click the hyperlink.



Chef Alan working the crowd


A pickled watermelon ceviche with, yes, shrimp is what chef Alan Lambert of the DoubleTree had to offer up. It was really bright and tangy and I wish there was more of it on that small square bowl. Sure I pulled the food writer b.s. by getting served before the others because I was on the line taking photos, and I considered getting back in line for more but as the afternoon wore on, the queue for food grew and grew.

So I was thankful for what I got.

The food was so good this year, as is every year, but with the low number of competitors and the double of ticket sales, getting to sample food resembled a busy day at Disneyland, even though that fast pass jobber is pretty brilliant.

Just standing and waiting, and waiting, then moving a bit, then waiting more. Let's hope next year we'll have more chefs who are eager to fight for their right to partake.

We shall see.




Chef Mat Cable of Fresco with a plate for me to try


Lastly, chef Ken, along with business partner chef Mat Cable, concocted a wild dish of housemade lamb chorizo, Sonoran wheat berry foie risotto, Guajillo peppers, spring pea coulis with chili oil and smoked sea salt. Wow. Just wow.

I asked Mat if the chorizo was made by Tucson's esteemed butcher Ben Forbes. He reminded me that they make their own sausages on premise and for some dumb reason I always forget that. Gonna have to make it back to Fresco soon to sample the goods.

As the sun dimmed and the booze was getting people lit, I decided that it was time to head back home before it gets too dark. That stretch of south Valencia road leading to the casino can be a perilous one. Folks tend to drive as if they are in some kind of underground NASCAR offshoot or perhaps the cheap meth had finally kicked in so its a hard stop 'n go the whole way. The only way get out and back to the car is to take the kling-klang machine strobe weaponry of sure fire ways to lose your shirt robots that take credit cards in a naughty jungle of jumble head on.


But I had left breadcrumbs: Turn right at the high stakes room, continue straight past the ice cream shop, left after the enormous touch screen boing boing apparatus, forward through the spinning rotunda of restaurants and TV themed one armed bandits, a slight right after the angry Asian lady screaming at a cartoon Ewok sitting on a pile of her money that she just lost and then outside to freedom.

Then back home. But not before getting that tequila bomb I had wanted earlier.

"What's a tequila bomb?", asked the bartender.

Dammit, I said. I really have no idea. But make it a double.

Cheers everyone.

And good luck chefs!




That about wraps it up




Camera, Typing and Happy To Not Be Standing In Line
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
The Day of the Last 'Game of Thrones' episode, 2019

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