When Tucson was named a City of Gastronomy in December 2015 — the first in the United States — it was an opportunity to introduce to foodies ingredients and cooking techniques unique to the Old Pueblo.
In a few weeks, the city will have another chance to showcase cuisine particular to the Sonoran Desert when two local chefs attend the Gola! Gola! Food and People Festival in Parma, Italy, June 2-4. Parma, another City of Gastronomy, is hosting the festival for the second year and expects to attract 100,000 people.
Brian Smith, chef de cuisine at Maynards Market & Kitchen, will prepare a course at an exclusive dinner for 70 at the festival, while Michael Montesano, executive chef for Edge Catering, teams with a chef from Spain on a cooking demonstration at the festival. The two men were chosen to represent Tucson in Parma by a local board representing UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — which designated Tucson a City of Gastronomy.
“I was blown away with the opportunity,” said Montesano, who oversees Tohono Chul Garden Bistro, as well as catering operations and a gourmet food truck.
“I have been so busy figuring out my recipes and how I am getting my stuff there,” Smith said. “I am kind of between doing two recipes.”
Both chefs will showcase local ingredients.
Smith is trying to decide between preparing a tepary bean salad with a mesquite flour cake or a Sonoran wheat berry salad and arroz con leche — a rice pudding he would serve cold and top with dates soaked in Bacanora, a traditional agave-based spirit from Sonora, Mexico.
“The menu I developed had to evolve mostly around dry ingredients,” Smith said. He and Montesano will have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and meats in Italy, but it is the flavors of the desert they want to bring with them.
Montesano is working on a collaborative recipe with the Spanish chef. Montesano’s contribution: dry cholla buds, mesquite beans, tepary beans, dried corn and ocotillo blossoms.
“A lot of it is going to be based on product availability and what I want to represent and what I want Tucson to represent,” Montesano said. “There is no place in the world that has the weather of Tucson and is able to sustain the food and cuisine and agriculture. That is why I am leaning toward native ingredients, simplistic diversity. We are surrounded by so many ingredients and they are beautiful all in their own way and it is better not to complicate them.”