It wasn’t a love of long hours, hot kitchens and sharp knives that attracted Travis Peters to life in the restaurant business. He was driven by base desires. He was a hungry kid, and his mother was a lousy cook.
“My mom was a terrible cook. She was just awful, so if we wanted to eat anything outside of her five menu items, we had to come up with it ourselves,” said co-owner and executive chef at The Parish.
“My mom made soup one time with a bouillon cube and a gallon of water, and I think she cut up a carrot in it. I think we ate it for 10 minutes when she admitted how terrible it was and we went out and got hamburgers.”
After he moved out on his own, Peters enjoyed impressing his friends with his skills at the barbecue.
He found employment at local eateries and, as he worked his way across the Tucson restaurant scene, met up with fellow foodies Steve Dunn and Bryce Zeagler, all of whom had lived in various southern states before arriving in the Old Pueblo. Five years ago, the trio teamed up to open The Parish, a Southern fusion gastropub.
Where did you get your interest in cooking?
“We grew up on a goat farm and my dad was into hunting. We tried to introduce fun foods out of necessity. If my dad would hunt an animal, we would eat all of it. My mom would raised us on goat milk out on the farm. That kind of got my interest going as far as food was concerned.
“Then I started working in restaurants because there were jobs. I accidentally got good at it and people started offering me promotions. I was doing dishes … and I would come out on my own time and they would teach me how to use a knife or whatnot then they started letting me create calzones and what not. I just kind of learned on the job.
“There’s two ways to go. If you go into culinary school, in the beginning you have to get your pants dirty and get your boots into it, or you can go the long route and work in restaurants and learn that way. The end result will be the same, I think. It’s all internally driven. Either it’s something you want to do or it’s not.”
What is your favorite ingredient?
“I love cooking with vinegar. I love pickling items, just different vinegars. Pickling is fascinating to me. We just pickled some shrimp today and some fennel and we’re excited to see how that works out. We are working on soft-boiled pickled eggs. These are amazing. We pickle them in beet juice, we added in some habaneros and cayenne.”
What is your most innovative food pairing to date?
“I’ve been doing a lot with watermelon lately, pork belly with watermelon. I call it redneck sushi. We are compressing watermelon and braising pork belly, pickling watermelon rind and we make hot sauce out of the left over watermelon. That’s not on the menu yet. We are testing it and people are pretty excited about it. The watermelon, after we compress it, looks like ahi tuna.
“When I cook, I try to find all the elements I can. I will never put a garnish on just to garnish. I just don’t cook like that. I want everything to have a reason to be on the plate. I like textures and flavors and crunchy and salty and sweetness to just to keep you interested.”
What do you cook at home?
“We make a ton of vegetables and fruits. One of my daughter’s favorite things is grilled peach with agave nectar and we’ll make a lot of that. Those go great with pork chops. One of my favorite things to do is salt, pepper and oil on grilled jicama. It has the neatest texture ever. It will change your life.
“I’m a terrible home cook. I make way too big a mess and use way too many pots and I cook for 30 people when it’s just myself, my wife and my daughter. Tucson is usually warm and we’re outside grilling all the time. It’s our favorite thing.
“My wife cooks most of the dinners at home because she is a much better home cook than I am. She has portion control. I get too ‘restaurant’ with my home cooking. Cooking with her at home, watching her cook one- and two-pot meals for a few of us at a time actually made me a better cook because it makes me think of cooking in different ways and I bring some of that here and get a kind of home feel” at The Parish.