Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I (heart) GUT

When I got jumped into the GUT collective I really had no idea what was in store for me.

First off, it made me feel real cool. After running the Homeskillet for a few years and doing it slightly under the radar and for my own good benefit, it was fun to get some love and recognition once I started contributing to the Weekly as their food writer.

And it's fun to feel cool.

Second I just thought it'd introduce me to some new and interesting people, which it has, or get me on a list for a food event here and there, which it also has, but rubbing elbows with southern Arizona's culinary elite and getting invites for near impossible to get into pop-ups has been quite the shake up with my middle aged, geeky ego. It is both humbling and really awesome.

Being part of GUT has definitely made me feel cool.

One of the best things that GUT (Gastronomic Union of Tucson) does is put on a multi coursed dinner that is created and supervised by what some have called the 'Justice League of Tucson chefs'. This is open to the public, that is if they want to shell out a good $80 to be a part of the culinary experience. Which they totally should.

It all takes place at the Carriage House downtown and the first one was held on Sunday June 25th. I can't tell you how excited I was when I got my invite.

And I can't tell you how bummed I was when I had to back out.

The mid-summer stomach bug caught up with me and I kept having to text Carriage House executive chef and GUT dinner organizer Devon Sanner with the bad news. He, along with a few other chefs that were involved that night, kept asking me to "fight it", "pull through" and "just get over it already"...but the struggle was too real and I stayed home going back and forth from the couch to the toilet.

The next one was on Sunday July 30th and this one I definitely attended. I told Devon and various others that I would be there "even if things were coming out both ends". Luckily for me I was fine and dandy and was stoked to be fed by such amazing talent as CJ Hamm of Saguaro Corners, Janet Jones on loan from Hacienda del Lago, Jason, Buddy and Matt from Ermanos and, of course, Ben Forbes, Tucson's premiere butcher and owner of Forbes Meat Company.

The food was on point and inventive, taking us all on a tour through Japan, India, China and, yes, Tucson. I had such a blast and it made me look forward to the next and last GUT dinner that was to take place Sunday August 27th.

Luckily this time I took a bunch of photos for the "GUT #3: El Tour de Tastebuds", a rollicking journey through the many levels that our tongue and senses can handle on just one plate.

Here is what went down:

Like eating and drinking electric pop rocks

The Carriage House is located in a sort of alleyway, S. Arizona Ave, between Broadway and E. 12th. It started as the brainchild of both Devon Sanner and James beard award winning chef Janos Wilder as a place to hold demonstrations, cooking classes, weddings and events, such as the GUT dinners. It's a really cool space, wide open with a pass kitchen, theater lights and a sound system. I heard they do dim sum there on occasion. Haven't been invited to that yet. Guess that's a next level GUT entry...

Since this was the last GUT dinner of 2017 the place was packed. My wife and I were given a seating assignment then handed a cocktail. It was a bright yellow lemongrass citrus mezcal creation and they paired it with some kind of puffy stem flower called a 'buzz button'. The fuzzy bud created a numbing and tingling sensation, which was quite the surprise. Paired with the boozy drink, the overall experience was both alluring and almost off putting...but in a fun way.

As we chatted with folk, servers brought around a selection of hors d' oeuvres which included a pork crepinette (which basically means it was flattened), finished with a Szechuan spicy pickled peanut sauce. My favorite was the dry rubbed, pecan smoked ribs with micro greens. This was really good on so many levels. My wife loved the crostini with a pork offal schmear, black garlic oil and crispy kale. I liked that one too. I just preferred the ribs.

But that's just me.

Before long everyone began taking their seats because the dinner was about to start.

Course 1: Bitter

Devon Sanner took center stage, thanked everybody for coming and introduced us to the chefs that created each dish. Tonight they would include Izaak Morhaim of Jackson Bar + Eatery, David Solorzano of Cielos at Lodge on the Desert, Sam Krajnak from Pasco, Mat Cable of Fresco Pizza, Nohemi Montoya from Lowes Ventana Resort and Travis Peters (who recently took the title of Tucson Iron Chef) of The Parish among a slew of other very talented chefs. Like I said, the Justice League of Tucson culinary heavy hitters.

First up was the "Bitter" course which boasted a petite pork osso bucco, charred dandelion greens, a pomegranate gastrique (a sweet and sour sauce deglazed in vinegar), grapefruit espuma (foam) and tripas (tripe) cracklings.

This was interesting. Bitter came in many formats here; the dandelion greens, the grapefruit foam and the pomegranate gastrique.  The pork osso bucco was tender and a lot of fun to eat. It was small, just a bite or two and if this was a proper "meal" sized dish it would kill in any restaurant as a main dish.

We were off and running, taste buds glowing from bits of pungent buds, strong drink, pork nasty bits and tart crispiness.

This is going to be fun.

Course 2: Sour

Course #2 would be the "Sour" element.

Here we were treated to a sous-vide of pork neck (which apparently does not exist but butcher Ben Forbes said he had to push meat up from the shoulders to get a fatty effect on the neck), a tart apple demiglace (or 'half glaze', a sauce that is basically used for other sauces), sour grape and tomatillo escabeche (a Mediterranean dish, usually fish, that is cooked in an acidic mixture), mustard green chips, carrots, turnips and a blackberry croquant ('crisp').

This was the standout for me. All of it came together with each bite to create that perfect mouth feel and flavor and the "sour" invitation lived up to its name. It was playful, jovial and above all really yummy. Cheers to all that came together on this one.

Okay. Lets keep this hit machine on track.

Course 3: Umami

Umami is usually described as a category of flavor beyond the bitter, sweet, sour and salty that our taste buds can handle. Some say brothy or meaty. Quite the challenge for this course.

For this one, chefs offered up hog trotter and barbecue devilfish (usually a manta ray, here it was smoked octopus), chicken fried headcheese, mudbug (crawfish/crayfish depending on where you are from) dashi (Japanese cooking stock) grits, smoked roe, chicory, enoki (long thin white Asian mushroom) and some mayo.


Complex only begins to describe what was happening here. The devilfish was rousing as I was not really used to that kind of texture or flavor, one that reminded me of a loose pate of sorts brimming with porky elements and a distinct barbecue finish. The chicken fried headcheese just made me smile as I know that was the product of chef Travis from The Parish who is no stranger to twisting traditional southern flavors and making them his subservient. The presentation reminded me of some Medieval map in which after crossing the dark sea of the devilfish you must solve the puzzle of the mysterious enoki before conquering the tower of chicken fried headcheese topped with smoked roe.

Probably because at this point the food high was beginning to seriously rear its delicious head.

Just one more course to contend with.

Dessert Course: Sweet (duh)

Sweet relief came in the form of a triage of dessert:

1) A chocolate ganache (a glaze or filling made from rich chocolate and cream) cake with cardamom cream
2) Prickly pear limoncello granita (basically an Italian icee)
3) Donut with pork floss cotton candy, bacon and ancho caramel

This was the perfect way to end an extraordinary meal.

The chocolate cake was really rich but not too sweet. If you are going to live in Tucson be prepared to love prickly pear...everything. That granita melted in your mouth and cooled the pork heavy supper down a notch. They explained why the pork floss was bright green but all I could hear was "Mmmm" echoing through my ears and brain. I'm sure there was a reason behind it.

To the chef that created it...get back to me. It looks like the mossy glen to which the headcheese tower casts shadows over, next to the perilous devilfish sea, a donut-y respite from solving the riddle of the enoki.

Is that what it is?

I hope so.

All the chefs making all the food

As we sipped on a really hearty yet subtly sweet port wine, Devon and the rest of the chefs thanked everybody involved and gave a big hand to us, the ones that attended and were privy to such an honor to be fed by the hands of Tucson's culinary Avengers.

We left, not only full, but a bit sad that this was the last in the first series of GUT least for the summer. Since it was so busy with people, the two of us exited into the warm evening outside without saying personal 'thank yous' and 'goodbyes'.

So let this here blog post say it for me/us:

Thank you chefs for not only creating GUT but for cooking memorable meals and allowing a dork like me to be part of your fold.

All I can say about that is:


Thank you GUT!

Camera, Typing & Eating
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Last Sunday in August, 2017

Metal Influence:


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