Corn Ball: Pueblos del Maíz Fiesta celebrates corn in gastronormous proportions

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
Courtesy Photo

Springtime in Tucson brings numerous events to engage the community, celebrate local cultures and enjoy local foods and beverages. A new event this week revolves around one simple ingredient that has nourished communities in Arizona, Texas and Mexico for generations.

Pueblos del Maíz Fiesta is the brainchild of Tucson City of Gastronomy and their counterparts in multiple Texan cities. TCoG manages Tucson and Southern Arizona’s UNESCO designation as a creative city of gastronomy and wanted to work with other UNESCO-designated cities to create an event they all could experience in their own communities.

Through federal grant money awarded to Pima County Attractions and Tourism under the American Rescue Plan Act, Pueblos del Maíz Fiesta has been brought to life.

“We were devastated by COVID: restaurants, tourism, travel, hotels,” said Diane Frisch, director of Pima County’s Attractions and Tourism Department. “As we try to gear back up and get tourism back to Pima County, we were looking for events that would play into all the unique features we have here.”

The full fiesta will be a month-long celebration of maíz, or corn, in multiple cities. It starts in Tucson from May 5-8, and will move to Mérida, Texas on May 13-14, then to San Antonio on May 16-22, and it will finish in Puebla on May 27-28.

With local food and heritage at the core of this event, there will also be a push for sustainability through the use of eco-friendly materials and extensive sorting of waste to maximize recyclability and food compost.

“Coming out of the long pandemic break, we got to think about why we really operate in this community events space, and it’s to shine light on the things that are important,” said Matt Baquet, owner of Ranch House Media and the organizer of Tucson’s Pueblos del Maíz Fiesta. “To me, it’s sustainability, it’s closed-loop economics, it’s food security and it’s common ground you find with your community members to see each other eye-to-eye.”

Pueblos del Maíz Fiesta fits snug in the calendar among several other events taking place in Tucson in the spring. Instead of looking at the timing as a conflict, these events are working together to promote one another and extend their celebrations.

“We wanted to create some synergy with the Agave Heritage Festival and with other festivals like the Arizona International Film Festival, the Tucson International Mariachi Conference, and the 23 Miles of Mexican Food Festival all happening around the same time,” said Jonathan Mabry, executive director for Tucson City of Gastronomy. “It will give visitors even more reason to come to Tucson and stay longer.” Here are the events taking place in Tucson.

Thursday, May 5

Tontitos y Bataretes: El Maíz en Sonora. Join José René Córdova Rascón via Zoom from noon to 1:15 p.m. He’s a professor of anthropology at the University of Sonora and the Escuela Normal Superior who also received one of his master’s degrees in Public Health with a specialty in Public Policy from the University of Arizona. His presentation will explore the history of corn and ideas and dishes to make with corn. The presentation will be in Spanish with English interpretation. Register for this free Zoom presentation at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

Photography Exhibit: “Maize Traditions in Puebla” by Andrés Lobato. This is a free event for guests 21+ at The Citizen Hotel from 5 to 6 p.m. The exhibition documents rites, traditions, and ceremonies around central Mexico’s agriculture cycle. RSVP for the free exhibition at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

Movie Screening: “Maize in Times of War” by Alberto Cortés. Fox Theatre will showcase a free viewing of this film about a family in Jalisco and their connection to corn. After the film will be a Q&A session with Carlos Rossini (Producer) and Carlos Gutierrez (Director of Cinema Tropical). Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the showing starts at 7 p.m. with the Q&A going until 9:30 p.m. RSVP for this free movie screening at pubelosdelmaiz.com.

Friday, May 6

Pueblos del Maíz at San Xavier Co-op Farm. This event will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the San Xavier Co-op Farm. There will be educational courses about crop growing, harvesting, and processing along with cooking classes to learn traditional native recipes involving corn. There will also be several other farm-based experiences throughout the day. RSVP for a day on the farm at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

Ixi’im: An Indigenous Maíz-based Philosophy for the Americas. The Century Room at Hotel Congress will host Roberto Rodriguez, Ph.D., also known as Dr. Cintli, from 5 to 6 p.m. Dr. Cintli is an emeritus associate professor in the Mexican American Studies Department at the University of Arizona. His talk will focus on maíz culture in America.

Doors open at 5 p.m. and Dr. Cintli will start at 5:30 p.m. More information about Dr. Cintli and the event can be found at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

Maíz Showcase. This will be one of the premiere events over the weekend and one of the few ticketed events. From 7 to 9:30 p.m., join local award-winning chefs, restaurateurs, and food artisans for a bocadito dinner experience at Hotel Congress. John Martinez (Tito & Pep), Don Guerra (Barrio Bread), Mateo Otero (Rollies Mexican Patio), and Janos Wilder (The Carriage House) are some of the chefs who will be bringing their unique twists on maíz to this immersive, culinary experience.

Wilder is also the president of Tucson City of Gastronomy and curated the list of chefs he thought would make the evening one like none other before.

“It’s going to be a really wonderful cohort of local chefs who are going to celebrate our corn heritage with a lot of different foods we’ll be serving,” Wilder said. “This particular group of chefs has never been put together
before.”

In addition to the mass of food set for the menu, there will also be local beer. Brewers in each city are incorporating maíz into the brewing process to create beers specifically for the Pueblos del Maíz Fiesta. Here in Tucson, Ayla Kapahi, Director of Production and Head Brewer at Borderlands Brewing Co. is collaborating with her team on their featured beer.

Borderlands was one of the beverage artisans to receive a certification from TCoG for their efforts to use local and sustainable ingredients and practices, so it would seem a natural fit for them to be incorporated into this event.

“We’re using a 60-day maíz from the San Xavier Co-op Farm,” Kapahi said. “It’s a less mature corn than other varieties, and because the corn is able to be processed and used in 60 days, it really saves on water practices for growing the crop but also the manufacturing process they have for processing it. From my understanding, it should be able to produce very earthy and sweet flavors. We decided to brew a light blonde ale to really showcase the profile of the ingredient.”

Purchase of a $50 ticket to the Maíz Showcase also gains entry to the annual El Tambó Fest immediately following the showcase. Tickets for this event are selling quickly and can be found at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

El Tambó Fest. This event is the official afterparty of the Maíz Showcase and will take place on the Hotel Congress Plaza from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. the next morning. It is a 21+ event, and if you don’t purchase a ticket to the showcase, tickets to El Tambó Fest are $15. This dance party will celebrate the cultural fusion of the borderlands and host local and international bands and DJs throughout the night.

Tickets for El Tambó Fest are available for purchase at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

Saturday, May 7

Sonoran Desert Corn Traditions at Mission Garden. Spend Saturday morning planting 60-day corn, learning about
traditional methods of harvesting, roasting, and grinding corn, and participating in cooking demos and tastings at Mission Garden. This event is open to all ages and has free entry, although donations are accepted upon entry. The activities will be informal and educational with the goal of learning community and cultural exchange. Activities start at 8 a.m. and will wrap up at noon. RSVP for the event at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

Maíz Fiesta. After a morning in the garden, party it up at this free block party taking place at Hotel Congress and on Fifth Avenue. The block party is scheduled from 5 to 10 p.m. and will feature musical entertainment in the Plaza and in Club Congress along with over 15 local food and artisan vendors strewn throughout the street. Vendors will be celebrating the cultural and agricultural significance that maíz holds in the Tucson community and Sonoran Desert as a whole. RSVP to this free event at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

Let’s Talk about Maíz. During the Maíz Fiesta, there will be a panel conversation in The Century Room completely dedicated to discussing maíz. Panelists will include Alexandra Zamecnik (Native Seeds/Search), Carolyn Niethammer (local author), Jeffrey Silvertooth (UA School of Plant Sciences), and Emily Rockey (Mission Garden). Join the panelists and ask maíz-related questions from 5 to 6:30 p.m. RSVP for this free event at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

Sunday, May 8

Maíz Mother’s Day. Restaurants and food and beverage artisans certified by Tucson City of Gastronomy will offer Mother’s Day
specials throughout town. RSVP with your name and email to find out more at pueblosedelmaiz.com.

Needless to say, the Pueblos del Maíz Fiesta is shaping up to be an eventful weekend in Tucson. From The Old Pueblo to Puebla, Mexico, maíz is a staple ingredient that has sustained the tests of time and has proven to be adaptable to the human influences it has seen over generations of use.

“It’s long overdue to celebrate a food that’s at the heart of our community’s story which we share with these other internationally famous food cities,” Mabry said. “I think that the event’s subject, the location on the calendar, the broad program, and strong partners provide the ideal foundation for immediate and long-term benefits to Southern Arizona’s tourist and hospitality industries.”

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