Janos Wilder, owner of Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, is a man who needs no introduction. A James Beard - Best Chef in the Southwest award winner, he is Tucson's Culinary Godfather, and a personal idol of mine. Janos' DTK+C and seven of its downtown brethren are throwing a Downtown Chef's Table Dinner on Sunday, Oct. 12, which will benefit Tu Nidito and the Fox Tucson Theater. For tickets visit: downtownkitchen.com/art-events/downtown-chefs-table.
What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
Chinese Chicken Salad at Ming's Restaurant in Palo Alto, California. Everything about it was perfect: the chicken was warm, the cabbage crisp, the cilantro fresh and redolent, the sesame vinaigrette coated but didn't drench. I was 6 years old. I remember it as if it was yesterday.
What are you eating these days?
More fish, vegetables and fruit. I'm always a big ethnic food fan.
What was the first dish you remember cooking?
BBQ chicken. My mom was a great cook, and, as the youngest in the family, I got to hang out with her in the kitchen when my brother and sister were at school. So I learned from an early age. We must have been doing a lot of grilling when I was 5 or 6 because that's the first thing I made on my own.
What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can't stomach?
Super-duper sizing of everything is bad for you. Even soft drinks. When did 12-ounce cans go to 16-ounce, now to 20-ounce bottles as the default size? Foot long hot dogs weren't enough? Now they're two feet with more on them than fits. Hamburgers have grilled cheese sandwiches on them plus onion rings, plus bacon, plus who knows what. It seems like it's a badge of honor to over eat and over serve.
What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
Jacques Pepin comes to mind immediately. What a truly lovely man, great chef, extremely knowledgeable and an inspirational teacher whose lessons go far beyond the kitchen.
What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
I'm bi-coastal on that. San Francisco and New York. I know them both pretty well and never tire of eating in either city. I was just in Portland and their food scene is blowing up.
Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Dairy Queen Blizzard with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I'm not proud of it.
Top three Tucson restaurants?
Vivace, Mariscos Chihuahua on Grande, Tacos Apson on South 12th Avenue.
With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
I'll go for last meal without electric chair or time limit. I want it to last forever and to remind me of everyone and everything I love in life so here goes:
Crispy Mochomos with Guacamole and Salsa Fresca
La Roca Restaurant, Nogales
Carne Machaca with Anita Street Market Flour Tortillas
Rebecca and Ben Wilder, Tucson, Arizona
Spicy Lamb's Tongue Tacos with Chilitepin Salsa
Janos - J BAR, DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Tucson, Arizona
Corned Beef on Rye with Slaw, Mustard and Pickles
Carnegie Deli, New York City
Brushcetta of Heirloom Tomatoes, 15 Year Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Basil Genovese and a Dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano
Francine Pearce, Harlekin Gardens, Arrivaca, Arizona
Chilled Kumamoto and Belon Oysters with Beluga Caviar, Crème Fraiche
The Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station, New York City
Joyce's Macaroni and Cheese
Joyce Wilder, Menlo Park, California
Slow Poached Maine Lobster however he wants to cook it
Thomas Keller, Per Se, French Laundry
Provençale Soup with Rouille and Grilled French Bread
Sandy D'Amato, Sanford, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Pan-Roasted Wood Pigeon on Toasted Brioche with Foie Gras, Armangac Roasted Matsutake Mushrooms, and Aromatic Red Wine Sauce made from the Pigeon Bones
Janos Restaurant, Tucson, Arizona
Joyce's Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Leg of Lamb with Oven Roasted Potatoes, Carrots and Onions
Joyce Wilder, Menlo Park, California
Prime Rib of Beef Roasted on the Bone with Aromatic Vegetables, Natural Jus and Spicy, Creamy Horserdish
Didier Petreau, on the beach at Arcachon, France
Licorice Ice Cream with Cold Fudge Lining the Fountain Glass and Hot Fudge over the Top
Edie's Ice Cream Shop, Menlo Park, California
Apricots, plucked warm and ripe from the tree and eaten in its shade with the juices flowing down my chin and nobody to tell me that I'm making a mess of myself
Dora and Barry Bursey, Sonoita, Arizona