Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Sober Vegans Beware!




The annual "Bacon, Blues and Brews" festival is no place for the meager of palate or liver. This is territory stapled for those with an energy for tasty, salty cured meats, cold craft beer and the occasional sip or something stronger, malted.

To say the least, those who cling to the vegetarian, vegan or sober dictum need not purchase a ticket. There is not much for you here except a sense of dread or possible battleground for your shaming those who indulge combined with an internal struggle to partake and live life as it was meant to be lived.

Fearless. Fun. And full of near naughty possibilities.

Not to mention, the event takes place within the hanger-like confines of Brother John's BBQ, a joint so lit with smoked animal sections one would recoil with volunteered lifestyle fear when a heaping plate of the stuff arrives at your table. And if you want to keep your liver as pink as we like the center of our steaks, this is prime country to call your mortal enemy. A wall, behind a bar lined with dozens of taphandles, is a shelving unit to amber hued, golden hooch beauty - a near art installation for those that have long given up going out with a liver the color of the elephants we see after one too many.

This is the time and place to let go of the health instituted fallacies for a few hours. We have come to eat bacon, and lots of it. We have come to drink beer, and lots of it. In the backroom area of Brother John's, a bacchanalia takes hold but once a year. It is our time to indulge. Forget the minions that consider quinoa a fine breakfast option. We want pork belly. We want hearty craft brew.

This year did not disappoint. With taste offerings from local culinary heavyweights such as Fresco Pizza and Pastaria, KIngfisher, Mama Louisa's Italian, Bisbee Breakfast Club, Gourmet Girls, Noble Hops Gastropub, Dante's Fire, Mama's Hawaiian and, yes, Brother John's BBQ, our collective mouths were glistening with fatty pork recoil. We were handed a tally before entering to vote for their favorite, but seeing as I do what I do, I leave that bit to the public. It's best I relent because, in the end, I can never really figure out who the clear winner is.

Because I always figure that I am the winner. I get to eat all the foods. And drink all the beers.

Speaking of which, the mango and apricot varieties supplied by Dillinger Brewing flipped my tongue like an epileptic acrobat. Tart, punchy, sweet with a pleasant acidity to them both. Barrio had their ever famous blonde pouring away but I went back for their hazy IPA a few more times than I should have.

And you can't have a Bacon, Blues and Brews fest without an actual blues band. Local stompers and twangers Michael P and the Gullywashers provided that. Now if you know me, and read this blog, you know how much we embrace the ideology of Metal. But we do, oftentimes, tread into other musical waters. These guys were good. Really good. And if you know your Metal history, the headbangers journey began with the blues. Jimmy Page worshiped Delta blues artists, as did Iommi, Hendrix and Richie Blackmore from Deep Purple. So take heed young padawan Metalheads, and know this:

Blues is the roots, the rest is just the fruits.

The funny thing is, a day or two before Bacon, Blues and Brews, a friend that owns and operates a busy food truck supplied me with some new menu samples. One was an Asian inspired chicken sandwich featuring, that's right, pork belly. The other was a grilled cheese infused with five varietals that was also stuffed with, yep, pork belly. So by the time I got around to my third or fourth dish, I knew that I had to take it easy on the bacon front for a spell.

Maybe go vegetarian for a while. Heck, why not make it vegan?

Wait a minute. What am I saying here? Didn't I just lambast...you know...earlier, when I...

Oh man. What a hypocritical food writer I am. Crap.

Anyway, cheers to Tucson Originals for inviting me once again and thank you to all the chefs and brewers for letting me, and those who arrived, partake in your meaty and mead-y goodness.

Now to drink some water and eat a salad.

Ugh.

See you all next year...



Ya gosh darn right
Crostinis...crostinis everywhere!
Oh what the heck...sure I'll try some
If its from Fresco, you know its gonna be amazing
Bacon wrapped fig on a nettle nest of awesome
Them Gourmet Girls always come through
There's s'more where that came from
Chef Ken in pork belly repose
Chef Mikey likes it...spicy
I totally thought a drag show was about to happen, totally bummed one didn't



Camera, Typing and Going On A Cleanse
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Day After Friday the 13th, 2019

Metal Influence: 


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I'm Only Hungry When It Rains




Summer is the time for food and drink festivals here in Tucson. It's slightly slower for local businesses, especially bars and restaurants, so why not showcase their talent before the students and snowbirds return and make things across town hectic again?

Why not indeed!

And one of the best comes at summer's end with the annual Salsa, Tequila and Taco Challenge held at the La Encantada mall.

So much fun.

And yet....slightly hectic.

Check it.



They weren't kidding...really spicy

For the past two or three challenges, the good folks of SAACA, who put on the amazing annual event, have asked me to step in as one of the judges, which has always been an honor. Like every other year, I got the email inviting me with the tag line "please hit reply all" to make sure the others on the list know I am game to eat, drink and voice my opinion with pad and pen.

Well, it didn't go as easy as it could have.

What I did was just hit "reply" so only one person knew that I was ready to do my duty as judge. The others? They had no clue. So a day or two before the event I emailed the guy who sent the initial email asking about my call time, check in and all that. He kindly sent back a "Oh, the actual contacts who were CC'd didn't get your response so we had to quickly fill your spot."

Ah ha. One (hopeful) last foible on my part before summer draws to a close.

Oh...oh I will continue to make many many more mistakes such as that; its what I do. But the way this year has unfolded for me I was hoping that I could reconcile just once with a duty that would make me feel needed and slightly cool.

That I am still working on.



Let's give 'em something to taco 'bout


But let's be honest here: I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

I still got VIP press tickets, I still got to participate and I still got to eat and drink some of the best our fair city has to offer. That is within the taco, salsa and tequila realm.

Whee!



Yes chef

When I arrived a little after 6pm, the hour VIPs get in as general admission was at 7, I immediately headed to the Rigo's Restaurant table for some tequila jello shots, a shot of Arriba tequila and then to sample their traditional and guacamole salsa. What a way to start the evening!

The crowd was fairly thin at this point but up above the clouds were growing thick.

That was of no surprise as every year, tradition pending, the Salsa, Tequila and Taco Challenge gets rained on. Two years ago, as were were judging, the monsoon hit so hard that any and all tables out in the open had to be immediately moved either indoors or at least under some form of La Encantada protection of shade or walkway. But, so far, we were looking mildly dry.

Except for the beer and tequila of course. 



Signed and it delivered


At 7pm is when things really started to kick off. The passageways and courtyards of the mall began to get, well, mauled by general admission ticket holders. Let the festivities begin!

Lines began to form, the salsa band on the main stage revved up their high energy music, dancers swayed through the hungry and thirsty crowd, dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria!

Now we have a party going on.

Then...boom!



Pulled pork taco, in repose

The sky zipped open and down came heavy drops of late summer rain. But it didn't matter! Even in the slightest. People danced, people ate, people drank, not one spirit was dampened by the dampness.

We chomped down on al pastor tacos from Cafe Botanica, slurped rhubiscus margaritas from Queen Ceviche, ate guava and napolitos salsa from Crossroads Restaurant and drank beer courtesy of Four Peaks, Sierra Nevada and Dos XX. Nobody cared that it was raining. The chefs and hosts were laughing and having fun in spite of it. Kids splashed in the puddles. Heck, I even splashed in a puddle (most likely after sampling all 3 tequilas from Roger Clyne's Mexican Moonshine)!

And just as quickly as rain started, it stopped.

That's when the humidity kicked in. The glass walls and doorways of the retail shops began to fog up, including my own glasses. But then when the breeze fell over the event, we were all hit with a very unexpected cool down factor. A very welcome feeling in late summer Tucson.

And that's when things began to heat up. 


Even salsa drummers like to thrash now and then

People gathered to eat tacos and drink margaritas from Casino del Sol, Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain, Quail Creek Country Club, Westward Look and the Lodge at Ventana Canyon.

Proof Artisanal Pizza and Pasta had this Italian inspired salsa that was really interesting. The YWCA made a "Dragon's Breath" salsa infused with Thai ingredients, and, whoa, it really did make your mouth light up. El Coronado had a house salsa along with a salsa verde and both were exquisite. And I was really impressed with the students at Pima Community College Hospitality, who offered up two different styles of salsa along with this delicious "tacos ahogados", which were crispy flautas drowning in a tangy green sauce. Way to go future chefs!

Everyone that was in attendance had a lanyard with a people's choice voting tablet attached. Sure the main judging was over, but now it was time for the public to speak up.

Just like last time, I had some serious difficulty deciding who should get the praise and prize. But, you know, this year I'm just going to relax and enjoy myself. Let someone else make the final chop deliberation.

So slightly soaked, full and heady, I made my way out of La Encantada and drove back home watching one of the best lightning storms to date. What a night.

Next year I will remember to hit 'reply all'. That is if I get the invite to be a judge.

Yet just being a part of the whole Salsa, Tequila and Taco Challenge was an honor.

It always is.



Lots of tequila, lots of beer, lots of food, lots of fun


So cheers SAACA (Southern Arizona Arts and Culture Association) for another successful event. And thank you, as always, for inviting me. It is always a pleasure. You kids rule!

And congrats to those who participated, those who showed up and braved the rain and for those who won.

I didn't stick around to see who actually took the trophy for each category. I didn't have to.

In my personal judgement...they all won. 

Yay!



So many happy faces



Camera, Typing and Not Judging (This Year!)
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Missing the Rains Down at La Encantada, 2019

Metal Influence:


Friday, August 30, 2019

The Brief Time I Drove A Truck For Ace Hardware



As many of you know, I haven't had a proper day job since February. For those that don't know...I haven't had a day job since February. 

I left my position with the Pima County Library for various reasons. It was the day job I have had the longest, 7 years, second only to working in kitchens before becoming a food writer. 

The scoop on me leaving the library came down to getting in trouble with administration. I had made a comment on a friend's Facebook post in October of last year, one regarding the guy who held up Mi Nidito and him getting 30 years in prison. I stated something like "Oh yeah, I think that dude used to come into my library and use the computers. Total dipshit." Then on Xmas eve, at work and an hour before we were about to go home, I get a phone call. It was the three head honchos of the library inquiring about the post. Having it been 2 months later, I didn't know what they were talking about. It took some prodding on their part to get me to remember. They then asked that I delete the comment and that my employment was now under review. 

Since the friend in question has thousands of Facebook followers, it took a while to find the post, find my response and delete it. Needless to say Xmas was ruined. I spent all day, not just hungover from worry drinking, but confused about what had happened. When I returned to work after the holiday, I decided to take a break for a bit. I really needed to think about things for a week or two along with sobering up. For one, how did they find my comment? Was I being monitored? If so, do I want to work for a place that does such things? And who lays down crap news like that on Xmas eve? They couldn't have waited a day or two? 

During my leave, my wife got really sick and was in hospital for a week. So I took more time off. After being away for nearly 3 weeks, I was finally back at work. Nothing was said about the phone call or the "incident". My supervisor and branch manager hadn't heard a word from the higher ups. I guess deleting that comment was all they needed.

Then one day I get a visit from the head of HR who handed me a folder full of paperwork. She said that if I wanted to fight for my position, I would have to show up, with representation if possible, in a week or two at the main branch offices. Again, this happened an hour before I went home for the 3 day Presidents Day holiday.  

I showed the paperwork to my wife who immediately said "When you go back to work on Monday, hand in your letter of resignation. You're done there and I am done with them." She had recently gotten a big promotion at work and we were doing quite well financially. So I typed up a quick letter of resignation and when I went in on Monday, I handed it to the librarian in change, then cleaned out drawers of my stuff, took one last look around and left. 

Afterwards, I slept for almost a week. 

Because of the nature of me leaving the library, I couldn't get unemployment. I got an interview with the Community Food Bank, helping with their marketing department, but didn't get it. Then I passed all of the steps to land a position with a company called Imperfect Produce, which provides "ugly" food that would normally get thrown out but are perfectly edible, for customers and restaurants. Sounded like an ideal job for me. The interview went really well and they said they would contact me in a week or two. That was on a Friday. On Monday I got an email from them saying that I would not be moving forward. Wait...what? Why? Very strange. I totally thought I landed that gig. 

Then...nothing. Just the Weekly. No responses to inquiries or applications for a part or full time day job. Summer was about to hit and nobody was hiring a 48 year old weirdo like me. Admittedly I did fall into some despair and there was a moment or two that my mental health was being closely monitored. I do harbor a chemical imbalance that rears it dark and stupid head on occasion. I don't really remember most of April to be honest. 

Then an opportunity fell into my lap. The owner of three Ace Hardware's, who frequents my wife's restaurant, heard about my plight and offered me a job. 

"We need a guy to drive the truck a few times a week. Move transfers from store to store. Deliver items to customers. Stuff like that."

So I filled out the application, passed the background check and before long I was now the official IST (inter-store transfer) driver for a trio of busy Ace Hardware's. 

And this is the truck I got to drive...  


Nickname: Big Red



Now, I am not a macho guy. I do not frequent hardware stores. I haven't driven big trucks since my time working film production in the mid/late '90s. So I was a little nervous taking this job. 

After 2 days of training, I was set loose on my own. Driving "Big Red" was pretty easy, and a whole lot of fun. It was cool, and, yes, slightly macho to sit in that truck, raised above everyone else, and power through the streets of Tucson. Yeah man.

Anyway, here is what the job entailed:
  
A couple of times a week, usually around 10am, I'd arrive at the Ace on Campbell Ave., clock in, say hi to whomever was in the back and go check on my agenda for the day. They had set up a dry erase board with customer deliveries, special requests, errands, etc. After I put my backpack full of water and snacks on the passenger side of the truck, I'd go back and see what items had to be transferred to what store. The Campbell store was 'store 1' and designated with green sheets, the Wetmore store was 'store 2', yellow sheets, the Ina store was, yep, '3' and used pink sheets.

Since I started around the beginning of summer, most big deliveries were outdoor grills and smokers. But mainly what I did was drive customer requests from one store to another while also delivering folders to the office managers, which contained, well...manager stuff. Say that the Campbell store had a specific hose that the Ina store didn't but an Ina store customer really wanted that hose so I'd move it from Campbell to Ina. No big deal. Not a lot of brain work here.

What I did like is that I was physical again. I haven't sweated that much since being a cook and working in kitchens. It was nice. And pretty fun. Driving Big Red was a hoot. I'd just play NPR all afternoon while jamming around town in this big truck with a lift gate on the back. Look at me. I'm a tough guy now!

Some days were pretty easy and I'd be done in like 2 or 3 hours. Grill delivery days, especially if I had to go to the outskirts of southern Arizona or way into the deep reaches of the foothills or Marana, would take a bit longer. The longest days were delivering goods to the prison way out on Wilmot. That was interesting. After I passed my background check I got the go ahead to deliver stuff to the prison, which took forever. Not only because it was pretty far but due to the fact that the officers on duty had to check every item and double check, leaving me just standing around looking at dudes in orange jumpsuits walk around the yard behind massive fences laced with barbed wire.

One time a prison delivery was short a few items, some gloves I think. The next delivery day I had to drive all the way back out there, pass the big security gate where they take my backpack, driver's license and anything that might pose a "threat", such as rope, drive down the dusty and very bumpy road and hand them a packet of gloves. It probably would have been cheaper to mail them but, whatever. I was getting paid so it really didn't matter. 

One time coming back from the prison, I began to get really lightheaded. It then dawned on me that the air wasn't working and it was a good 110 outside. So over the weekend they had it fixed which set them back three grand. The look on the face of the big boss was priceless. He was not happy.

There were times when I delivered just a hammer or shovel to someone just a few blocks away from a store. And sometimes I got a tip. It was rare but it did happen. 

Everything was going okay though. I was making some extra money. I was getting out of the house a few times a week. I'd come home dirty and covered in sweat, which the wife always found enticing. It was pretty alright.

There were, unfortunately, some slip ups on my end here and there. It happens right? Accidents do occur in a line of work such as that.

One was a can of white paint that literally leapt from the cab of the truck to the back parking area of the Ina store on my first solo drive. Parking there was a bit precarious because you were on a slant so when I went to open the passenger side door, whoosh!, the can of paint just flew out. Almost comically. So if you ever go the back area of the Ace at Ina and Thornydale and see a big white paint mess...thats me. You're welcome.

Another was delivering a grill to a nutty lady who resided on a very narrow street. After I put the grill on her back patio, and her tipping me in some loose change and some crumpled 1's, I backed the truck out and knocked her mailbox over. Oops. When I got out I noticed that the mailbox was secured by some wire but no real damage had been done. So I latched the mailbox back on, went to the front door, rang the bell and explained what had happened. She didn't seem fazed at all. It looked as if my apologies were enough. Whew!

Then a few days later she calls the Wetmore store to complain.  She was probably sitting around thinking about all the free stuff she could get off of that oopsie. Funny thing is, if I didn't tell her about it she probably would have never noticed that I had bumped that box. Oh creff, is there anything you can't do?

Then on a Monday, my last stop at Ina, I hit a big bump while moving a bunch of stuff from the back to the truck and, you got it, spilled another can of white paint. The big boss was actually there, saw it, went "Huh" and moved on. I guess it was no big deal.

Then after my run on Friday I was called into the office by the Campbell store manager. She said she had to let me go because I was dropping too many items, that I was costing them too much money. I tried to explain that sometimes humans drop things, sometimes you bump into a big mailbox on a slender path of a driveway. I was never late, I was always flexible with my schedule and ready to help out whenever needed...but that wasn't enough. So I just shrugged, clocked out and came home.

Some of the guys that work at the Campbell store frequently come into my wife's restaurant. Over some beers they said that the super slow time was approaching and having an extra guy on that was making slightly more an hour just wasn't needed. I had also heard that they go through employees like tissue, sort of like the mom and pop burger place where I was kitchen manager. One mistake and out you go. How do people run businesses like that? It's so odd to me.

Whatever.

A week later I picked up my last check and that was that.

So now I am back on the hunt for a decent day job. No real bites yet, a nibble here and there, but it is rough for a 48 year old kook like me to land a straight job these days. For now I have time to work on book projects, proposals, the Weekly and this blog while being the best house husband I can be.

Being around hardware store folk has kind of rubbed off a bit. The bathroom sink leaks a little bit if you don't shut it off right. Guess I better get on that.

Yeah man.

Macho.



Welp, it was fun while it lasted


Camera, Typing and Back on the Day Job Hunt
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Just a Few Months in 2019

Metal Influence: 




 






Monday, August 26, 2019

More Than A (GUT) Feeling




My little dog and pony show of a blog here, along with the weekly newspaper I contribute to, has landed me in with some of the coolest kids in town. Mainly culinary, as the Homeskillet is still, mostly, food focused and I am the head Chow writer for the Weekly.

In my near hermit-like oblivion of secluded living as I approach 50 years walking around as Mark Whittaker, it's always nice to get out now and then and hang with those cool kids. If you've kept up with this here blog, you know that every summer I attend, as much as I can, the monthly GUT dinners at the Carriage House. Unfortunately, because I got the dates wrong, I missed the first dinner this summer. That's on me. But I did attend the 2nd held in late July, which had the "Time Travel" theme, where chefs had to create dishes with ingredients from the decade they were given. If you recall my online posts, one of the highlights was a cheese platter (popular in the 70's, you know like fondue and stuff) with a squid ink infused cheese ball that was shaped like the Death Star, along with crackers resembling an exploding Alderaan. Totally awesome.

That's what these imaginative chefs do every year and every year they keep upping the ante to showcase our local culinary talent.

The last GUT dinner for 2019 had the distinction of carrying the "Deception!" tagline of intrigue. Meaning food that looked nothing like the actual flavor or focus of the dish. You've seen plenty of trickery like that if you watch enough food channel shows or follow multi-starred chefs such as Grant Achatz or Ferra Adria, who literally can make food float.

Here though, we were treated to plates that were a bit more down to Earth in whimsy.

As we all found a seat in the sold out event, we were treated to passed around 'dessert first' appetizers. One stand out was a chocolate truffle filled with chicken mole. You see...deception! Wasn't expecting that to hit my tongue. The smoked salmon mousse macaroons were a lot of fun too. We were also treated to a fantastic cocktail of fruit puree, almond extract, lime juice and cinnamon tea mixed with Banks 5 rum. It was paired with a miracle berry so the first sip you got was a bit sour but then after eating the berry, it turned sweet. Duplicity! Clever, clever...

First course held the title of "Coal and Stone" featuring an amazing strip of sous vide flat iron steak over 'esquites', or Mexican street corn salad. The deception here were the "stones", that were actually these savory, and slightly sticky, mochi balls. Were they mochi? Did I hear right? Get back to me so I can make this right.

For the 2nd, we got "eclairs". But wait! This is the Deception! dinner. They, uh, weren't eclairs. Tee hee. They were, get this...roasted green chile fondue tamales. Yes! With a black bean mousseline, which is sorta like Hollandaise, and a dark chocolate chicken mousse. The texture for this one was a little striking but all in all the flavors melded really smoothly for an extremely playful plate.

The 3rd, or the 'intermezzo', was served in an ashtray (that's right!) featuring smoked salmon formed into 'cigarettes', with a melon and lime granita, basically a semi-frozen dessert, resembling ash and a red pepper gastric. Watching some at my table giggle at this gag made me laugh so hard. Because I did a little when it was placed in front of me. It was a bit too real looking. Well done chefs! Well done.

The 4th course was the GUT diner portion of the evening. They took a scalloped beef tenderloin and paired it with gnocchi resembling potatoes O'Brien, some mango hot sauce formed into a 'yolk' with a halibut gelee as the 'whites' of the egg. Wow. The tenderloin was almost sausage-like in it's approach but matched with that 'egg' and the gnocchi home fries was really enjoyable.


The dessert is what totally caught me off guard. It was, in its essence, a banana split but looked more like a refined squid plate. There was a molded tentacle infused with squid ink and cherry along with chocolate and pineapple caviar, peanut butter 'sand', and this incredible dome of fermented banana Bavarian cream with a strawberry gelee center. Unreal. 

To check out the Deception! dishes, just scroll on down...



Thats no eclair...thats a tamale
That flat iron steak was killer
Gnocci "home fries" and mango hot sauce/halibut gelle "egg"
Smoke that trout if you got 'em
I sea what you did there


As always, I just want to thank Devon Sanner (exec chef of the Carriage House) and Mat Cable (of Fresco Pizza and Tucson Originals) for always letting a dork like me be a part of such awesomeness as this. You guys rule.

I also want to thank the whole GUT collective for continually proving to the rest of the culinary landscape that Tucson is a tasty threat to be taken quite seriously.

Respect to Obadiah (Obie Serious) Hindman and Aurelio Garcia from Mountain Oyster Club, Susan Fulton and Mary Steiger of Gourmet Girls, Vanessa Moon of Old Pueblo Provisions, Penca's David Solorzano and Thomas Golden, Ken Foy from Dante's Fire, Amanda Prewitt from The Lodge at Ventana Canyon, The Parish's own Travis Peters and Rica Rances, Sam Arnold of the Doubletree Suites, Mama Louisa's Mikey Elefante, Mayra Silva from Casino del Sol, Izzak Morhaim of The Hub,  Janet Jones of Tanque Verde Ranch, Roderick Ledesma from PY Steakhouse, Stacy Vernooy of Chef Chic along with Dominique Stoller, Max Provost, Nohemi Estrada, Brently Singletary and of course Lindy "Thunder Bacon" Reilly.

I love you all. I thank you all. And I can't express how honored I am to be a part of it all.

See you at the next event.

Cheers! 







Camera, Typing and Feeling the GUT Love
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Another Tasty Summer, 2019

Metal Influence: 


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Three Is A Magic Number



Unfortunately, we were a little late in the Three Sisters culinary series game.

We did get an invite to the first one held at Hotel Congress on May 3rd in their copper room, which featured James Beard award winning pizza master Chris Bianco, along with chefs from Maynard's and Cup Cafe, but due to some medical issues we had to skip out. Sucks.

The second in the series, that took place at the Westward Look Resort, sold out so fast that when we rsvp'd we quickly got a polite "Sorry". Hey, it makes sense. Paying customers come first. Freeloaders like me with a funky blog can wait. Although it was on me that I made my press reservation late. I thought it was happening on July 29th. It was slated for JUNE 29th. C'mon Mark. Get yo crap sorted.

This time we made darn sure to attend the final episode in the tasty trilogy: Brunch at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon.

Oh yeah. The Homeskillet got down with the brunch crowd.



Nice day for it

So what exactly is "three sisters"? No it does not refer to triplets or a trio of nuns. I mean, it could, but in this instance it involves an agricultural practice of planting together corn, beans and squash. Basically three main components that are an integral in our Sonoran landscape.

Hosted by SAACA (Southern Arizona Arts and Culture Alliance), along with Native Seeds/SEARCH, this was a three day event to feature the soul ingredients in so many of our heritage foods. Not a bad was to spend a summer night.

Or late morning for the brunch I attended.

Amazing food and getting a bit of education on our southern Arizona horticulture?

Let's do this!



Getting educated with Native Seeds

Here's the thing: as the food writer for the Tucson Weekly, I do get invites to fancy events and plated dinners now and then. It's a lot of fun, if not a smidge of pressure to get gussied up and being prepared to kiss hands and shake babies, but going to high end resorts, for me anyway, is slightly uncomfortable.

Ventana Canyon is basically a golf and tennis getaway for good folks that have made themselves some good money. Then here I come, some 48 year old aging skate punk and Metalhead in tattered Vans and a vintage Acapulco shirt mingling with those that could buy and sell me as an afterthought.

Sure I grew up on the California coast, calling Carmel my hometown, and spent a lot of time in Palm Springs where the dads lived until their death in 2014, so you'd think it'd be easy for me to ease into a well manicured resort where the biggest health threat is getting run over by a renegade golf cart.

Meh. I'm fine with it but...just not my scene man.

Still. It's always nice to get included with the well-to-do's during fun get-togethers such as this one.

Cheers SAACA!


These guys kept it lively


The Three Sisters brunch was held in the lodge at Ventana, essentially the rumpus room for guests who just went over par the the 18th green and looking to swig back a few to forget the bet they placed earlier staking that they would birdie on each hole.

It was pretty packed. Two dudes calling themselves the Troy Grey Duo (and I assume one of them was indeed Troy Grey) played peppy guitar music as people swirled around from one food station to another.

The chefs at Ventana were set up in the far left corner, flipping omelets equipped with, you got it, beans, corn and squash. One lady kept asking the head chef to make her omelet nice and hard. "I don't like runny eggs!", she informed. So the chef cooked hers a bit longer. When he was about to plate, the lady in the big hat proclaimed, "Oh no! I need to have my eggs brown!"

The chef and I locked eyes for a second. His expression was a quick and near invisible "Are you fxxking kidding me?" while I scrunched my face as if to say "You fxxking kidding me?" In the end the lady got her way overdone omelet and she was more than happy about it.

Hey. Different strokes man. 



Horchata coffee shots...yum


The SweetScapes Dessert kids from Casino del Sol were there with a literal wall of scratch made donuts. I plucked one off, a maple pecan I believe, and enjoyed it with a shot of horchata inspired espresso. So good. Those donuts were very light without a hint of that usual greasy fry you get with most store bought variety.

To their right was some reps from Nook that offered up a corn quiche with a black bean salsa. Very nice. I did take a picture of it but it came out kinda fuzzy because I got knocked by an older fella who was probably on his third mimosa. Whatever.

Hey, brunch aint brunch without some booze in that o.j. right? And, hey, congrats on getting to old man status. You earned that late morning buzz bro.

Now grab yourself a donut and do a silly dance for you purple golf shirt wearing freak.

I love it.




These made me go nuts


And, yes, there was a mimosa station and a bloody mary one as well. If you made your way down the hall, heading toward the retail store and gym, there was a full bar, but...c'mon. I like to drink as much as the next degenerate, but one thing I don't get into is day drinking. Maybe in my 20s I did it but all it ever did for me was make me take a nap in the late afternoon only to wake up as the sun is going down with that sun booze frontal head pound.

I guess the idea is to just drink more. Jeeze. But then...where does it end? Will it end?

Here's a conundrum: Do you want it to end?

Yikes.

I didn't have a mimosa because I'm not big on champagne, but I did have a small cup of a bloody mary made with Tito's vodka. Spicy, briny and yummy. I seriously had to stop myself from ordering a big boy mug of the stuff. It wasn't even noon and I had a 30 minute drive back home. I guess I'm sort of a responsible adult. Yuck.

It was cool to see someone from Button Brew House there, serving up a taster of their chiltepin infused red ale. It took a second, but the heat from the pepper eventually kicked it.

Caliente!


It aint brunch without a proper mimosa


The hooch and food was making me drowsy, so I meandered over to the Yellow Brick Coffee table for a pick me up.

Yellow Brick is easily one of my top 3 for local coffee roasters. The blend served that day was so well balanced with some slight acidity. It was the slow infusion method and after my cup I knew I was ready for more damage. Boink. Yep...I'm awake.

Thanks Yellow Brick Coffee!




Or a cup of good strong coffee


Okay. You remember what I said earlier, about being awkward at higher end festivals and such? Well one of the best parts about my job is meeting and making friends with some awesome people.

One such person is chef Wendy Gauthier, who just won the latest Iron Chef Tucson. Hooray! I was there to watch her win and being witness to the first lady to take the honor of Iron Chef Tucson was, well, an honor. Plus I wrote about her for the Weekly a year or two ago so we've remained close ever since.

Wendy and her crew were dishing out black bean breakfast quesadillas and corn grits. It's bites like that which make you realize how she won Iron Chef. So tasty.

A baker that I have made good friends with after our initial hanging out for a future Weekly article is Chelle Jennings, who runs the Mad Batter Bakery. She's a bit like Wendy where she does more catering and special orders rather than owning an actual brick and mortar. Although Wendy does run a cafe in the Daily Star building but is known for her catered events and meal preps.

Chelle, dealing with a recent loss of her cat, was a but late. No one really seemed to mind though because her maize cinnamon rolls with a brown butternut squash agave filling were divine.

Chelle, much like me, is home all day working so we got into the habit of texting one another when we needed a break or were bored. And I was really sad to hear about the passing of her cat. When the time comes for Lil Poundcake to move on, you better believe that I will be silent for a while. Probably hiding in some beach hut near my hometown, equipped with nothing but tater tots and whiskey till the sting subsides.

But its a beautiful day so...let's not dwell on the inevitable.



Chef Wendy serving up smiles and black bean quesadillas


Another culinary badass I was fortunate to write about and become pals with is chef Maria Mazon of Boca Tacos y Tequila. This lady, who is quickly becoming quite the local celebrity, offered up chilaquiles with a black bean guajillo sauce and corn crema. Absolutely amazing if not a bit decadent. She was cooking along with her wife and the two seemed to be having a blast. I would be too if I was serving up mega delicious food with my wife as well. But my lady is even more of a recluse than I am when it comes to events such as this. Plus she's always working keeping a busy midtown restaurant running properly.

And that, as they say, is girl power!



The always entertaining and brilliant chef Maria


Once again, thank you SAACA for the invitation. Once my golf resort anxiety cooled down I ended up having a lot of fun. Especially with some friends in the midst. And cheers to Native Seeds for providing the tools to further the cause of why living in Tucson is so rad.

But most of all, lets give it up to the three sisters, corn, beans and squash. Where would we be without them. Slightly more hungry and less satisfied I would presume. Its because of them, and everyone else involved, that got us that UNESCO nod in the first place. Which makes my job as a food writer that more interesting. And easier.

When I returned home, I laid down on the bed for a spell. I was pretty full and swimming from so much awesome. Then Lil Poundcake jumped up next to me and nuzzled in. I gave her a good head rub and was so thankful to have her with me and, above all, have such fortune as to be included with all of this deliciousness our desert hamlet has to offer.

I may be switching gears on this blog a bit, expanding its horizons beyond just food, but just know that if I can't get something in the Weekly, you better believe it'll make the digital pages of the Homeskillet.

And, as always, thanks for reading my stuff.

Cheers!



He got them straight up skillet skillz



Camera, Typing and Stone Cold Brunching
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
A Perfect Saturday in August, 2019

Metal Influence: