Three years after Tucson became the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States, the nonprofit group tasked with managing the designation has created a certification program to ensure Tucson restaurants uphold UNESCO standards.
Under the certification process, which the board launched last week, locally owned restaurants must meet criteria that includes locally sourcing their ingredients. Eligible restaurants also have to incorporate their personal take on the indigenous foods of the region to be considered a candidate for the certification.
“We were approached by a number of restaurant owners and chefs who were interested in finding out how they could link their restaurants to this national brand,” said Jonathan Mabry, executive director of the nonprofit Tucson City of Gastronomy program. “We wanted to be very deliberate on how we went about this.”
Mabry said that Tucson restaurants vying for the certification will be held to a higher standard and could help small, locally owned restaurants in Tucson become known on the national level through UNESCO.
Not every Tucson restaurant automatically gets the Tucson City of Gastronomy certification. Applications are graded on a point system that considers things including ingredient sourcing and if the restaurant identifies as a “scratch kitchen,” meaning the majority of their recipes are made in house, from scratch.
“The certification program is a matrix of criteria that a restaurant has to meet in order to become certified,” said Janos Wilder, president of the city gastronomy program board of directors and chef-owner of Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails. “We want restaurants who really serve the flavors of the region in their dishes or their interpretation of the region.”
The application process is open through Dec. 16 and restaurants will be awarded TCoG certification in early 2020. Each award lasts for one year and restaurants as well as food trucks can reapply every fall.
Mabry and Wilder, who also owns the Carriage House cooking school and events center behind his downtown restaurant, are hoping this certification program will motivate restaurants to maintain higher standards.
Under the program, restaurants that earn the recognition will have marketing opportunities including being able to post the TCoG logo in their restaurants to identify themselves to diners.
Restaurant owners can apply for the Tucson City of Gastronomy program online at tucson.cityofgastronomy.org/restaurant-certification.