Brian Metzger is the owner behind the Metzger Family Restaurant Group and Ginny Wooters is the executive chef for all of the MFRG locations. The pair has been busy as of late designing Jackson Tavern and its New England comfort food menu getting ready for opening day on Monday, Dec. 15. They have also launched Supperclub at Poppy Kitchen (the third dinner is Monday, Dec. 22 - German Holiday / Ugly Sweater, is the theme), doing weekend brunch at Poppy Kitchen and Gio Taco is celebrating its first birthday on Sunday, Dec. 21. A throwback to all Tucsonans out there as Thrifty ice cream is coming to Gio & Jackson by mid-December! I asked the dynamic duo my nine food questions.
—C.J. Hamm, email@example.com
What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
Brian: Oysters. I remember working at Bistro Zin in 2000, I was not a fan of oysters at that point, and a chef back then told me that oysters were alive up until we ate them! It freaked me out for a minute, and he showed me how you can check to see by tapping their shell, and seeing that they would close blew me away! I have loved them ever since.
Ginny: It wasn't a dish. It happened when I was working as a dishwasher at 16 years old and watching the kitchen put out food in this environment of controlled chaos, and I thought ... I wanna do that.
What are you eating these days?
Brian: We just Finished our Jackson Tavern New England road trip (see the Range, "Of Sea Dogs & Stuffies, Nov. 4), so let's just say i am taking a break until the 15th when Jackson opens for clam chowder, lobster rolls, fried anything, oysters. Rest assured, we will quench your hunger for these items soon!
Ginny: I eat pretty much everything, just in moderation.
What was the first dish you remember cooking?
Brian: Around the same time as Bistro Zin; I was fascinated with their warm artichoke heart appetizer, it was so simple, I had to try it: mustard, shaved parmesan cheese, oil, salt and pepper. What I didn't know was how labor intensive artichokes were! I'm surprised I kept going, after you cook the artichokes, peel them, get the heart, etc, it was a nightmare. I have a deep appreciation for the humble artichoke!
Ginny: I remember helping my mom out in the kitchen, I would help her prep. My favorite was cleaning green beans with her. We would get a couple of bowls and sit in chairs on the patio and talk and clean beans, then put them in a big pot with ham hocks and onions and let them cook ... amazing.
What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can't stomach?
Brian: Expensive ice cream or gelato. I don't get it. I love ice cream, don't get me wrong! But $5 or $6 for ice cream is too much. We have six in my family, that adds up too quickly! Give me good old Thrifty ice cream like when I was a kid here in town and I am happy!
Ginny: I am not down with sweetbreads ... man, I've tried them in every way ... I just can't do it. I can't eat them.
What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
Brian: Two answers—I grew up watching Julia Child on PBS (look for my "Ode to Julia" design element at Jackson Tavern); I think she was a genius, she made cooking French food seem approachable! I really respect Richard Blais from Top Chef fame; his flavor combinations are spot on!
Ginny: My dad passed away when I was young and he used to make great eggs for breakfast ... cheesy scrambled eggs. I would give anything be able to sit and chat with him one more time and have him cook scrambled eggs!
What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
Brian: Chicago - I was fortunate enough to live there in 2002-2004; worked at some incredible restaurants, I personally think that it is the best food city hands down: when you go, you have to eat at Purple Pig on Michigan Avenue! I love NYC and SF too, but there's something about Chicago!
Ginny: Portland, Oregon.
Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Brian: Karen Spike Ames' Bars of Sin at Bistro Zin. OMG, there is no way you can only eat one! One of the best desserts I have ever had from the best pastry chef I have ever worked with!
Ginny: Stale Haribo gummy bears. I love to get a bag, open it, let it sit for days and let the gummy bears get stale, and then eat them.
Top three Tucson restaurants?
Brian: (shameless plug? laughing): Poppy Kitchen at La Paloma, GIO Taco and Kingfisher.
Ginny: Mi Nidito, Rocco's Pizza, Pho 88
With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
Brian: This one is easy. Just thinking back to being a kid, growing up in the Providence area before moving out here. I love the food of that region! I am eating clam cakes, good chowder, belly clams + Del's lemonade!
Ginny: Homemade soup from Mi Nidito, chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, English peas with shallots and tarragon, a wedge salad with bleu cheese dressing, a glass of grape Kool-Aid, beef stroganoff with homemade egg noodles, carne asada tacos, French fries from McDonalds, sliced heirloom tomatoes with olive oil salt and pepper, and a fresh strawberry milkshake with whipped cream. Oh, and a ramen bowl, and definitely a piece of pan seared wild striped bass.