Not only does Tucson Cooks! serve as a fairly comprehensive dining guide to our fair city, it also contains recipes from 60 local restaurants. And whether as cookbook or dining guide, it's a tome destined for the shelves of many local food enthusiasts.
In celebration of the book's publication, organizers and featured culinary artists host a kickoff fundraiser from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, February 27, at Pastiche Modern Eatery, 3025 N. Campbell Ave. (325-3333). Among the restaurants pitching in with Pastiche are Athens on Fourth Avenue, Beyond Bread, The Cactus Rose (Doubletree Hotel), Café Terra Cotta, The Dish, Fuego, Janos, Kingfisher, La Indita, La Mediterranean, Lotus Garden, Nonie and Ovens.
Tickets for the epicurean extravaganza cost $25 per person, and are available at the door, or in advance through the Primavera Foundation (623-5111). Tucson Cooks! costs $22, and will go on sale for the first time at the event. It will then be available through the Primavera Foundation and local bookstores. Purchasing the book directly from the Primavera Foundation guarantees that 100 percent of the proceeds go to the organization, which sponsors numerous programs to assist Tucson's homeless population.
Primavera is a grass-roots organization that has been serving Tucson's homeless since 1983. Their programs provide the homeless and near-homeless with shelter, employment training, affordable housing and specific training in construction technology. A strong volunteer base, as well as strong financial support from the local community, have helped ensure the foundation's success.
The party at Pastiche is a winning proposition, offering revelers the opportunity to savor delicacies from some of Tucson's best restaurants, take home a treasure-trove of local recipes, and support an important social institution.
Two recipes alone are worth the price of Tucson Cooks!: The Dish's luscious four onion brown butter, which graces every table along with slices of warm bread, and Nonie's sizzling peppered peel 'n' eat shrimp. Also among the appetizing offerings are achiote-honey glazed prawns with sweet corn fritters and mango compote from Café Terra Cotta; blue corn-crusted cabrilla with rainbow posole broth from Janos; and chicken in mole sauce from Café Poca Cosa. Perusing the recipes, it's difficult to decide whether to make dinner reservations or get out the pots and pans.
While the recipes could easily stand alone, the book is also a nice guide to some of the city's finest restaurants. It would make a welcome gift for both out-of-town friends and family, and year-round residents in search of appetizing and entertaining reading material.
Peppering the text are personal stories about the restaurants and restaurateurs who make up Tucson's culinary community, including the history of the Zagona family who founded Caruso's in 1937 and continues to run the restaurant today. Many Tucsonans are intimately familiar with the eatery and its rooms and patio, and will enjoy imagining a time when the entire family lived on the premises and the children played on the patio during off-hours.
Athens on Fourth Avenue's Helen Delfakis shares the story of her family's move from Greece to Chicago when she was 12, and her consequent culture shock. She then recounts her education as a nutritionist at the UA and her dream of bringing a bit of the Plaka to the Sonoran Desert in the form of her own restaurant.
Reading the stories is a bit like leafing through a family album. Readers become acquainted with Tucson's culinary past, while also being introduced to its present and future. Janos Wilder, Donna Nordin, Doug Levy, Daniel Scordato and Gavi Colaleo are just a few of the names typical of this impressive collection of contemporary chefs.
"We are a gathering of individuals, unique, complex, and diverse," says Chef Janos Wilder of his peers in the foreword to Tucson Cooks! "These recipes are our gift. We offer them with joy and the pride of knowing that while you're preparing our dishes for your friends and family you are helping us nourish the entire community."