Renee Kreager and her husband, Steve, owner and operators of Renee’s Organic Oven, first came to Tucson in the 90s. After immediately falling in love with the city, they made it their home shortly thereafter. Renee had been eating mostly organic for years and both she and Steve believed heavily in sourcing local foods and supporting small businesses. At the time, however, few places offered local and organic foods. This led the Kreagers to open Eclectic Pizza, which, in 2005, became Renee’s Organic Oven. Since opening, the popularity of organic and locally sourced foods has grown exponentially – as has Renee’s Organic Oven’s devoted fanbase.
1. What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
I worked in a Middle Eastern Restaurant in Michigan and fell in love with the flavors, personalities and preparation used. A plate of chicken shawarma was my gateway to flavor addiction. Creamy garlic sauce, pickled turnips, warm pita, cucumbers with sumac… the chicken (and lamb) shawarma was the best in the city.
2. What are you eating these days?
Well, after writing my response to number one, it’s Za’atar on some of our organic fresh baked bread along with crisp organic greens with lemon and olive oil. As for last week, it was mostly tacos and tequila.
3. What was the first dish you remember cooking?
Meatloaf for my family. My mom was not a great cook and was very busy being amazing. I remember cringing when I put my hands in the cold beef. I then started to take note of everything from texture, and – thank goodness – the smell beginning to change as I worked with it. The end result was delicious and I knew it was appreciated and being enjoyed.
4. What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can’t stomach?
It is the concept of trending food that I think creeps me out. The catchiness kale or the ease in which bacon is glorified with no regard to what happened to produce this animal into an edible dish. Yet many opt for the menu item using 25 words to describe a potato to sell the talented treatment of the vegetable.
And no, I am not vegetarian.
5. What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
Her name is Kusuma Rao and she is exceptional at flavor, process and plating. I did attend a dinner with her, and I loved it. I would love to learn more from her and to be able to prepare a meal with her and have her sit down, let me pour the wine and have her embrace what an absolutely inspired and enjoyable meal she allows so many others to experience. I know this is hard for Kusuma, I think she would feel kinda like she was consuming her own soul, childhood and everything that matters to her to eat her own food because she puts everything into these amazing dishes.
6. What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
I recently traveled to Portland and I loved so much about the dining experience there. Every place had a sense of pride and enjoyment of service; this is key to me really falling in love with a restaurant. No matter the style, the plates being prepared or the cost of the dishes on the menu, every place was enjoyable to experience. The food was all just so good everywhere we went.
7. Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Chips and salsa.
8. Top three Tucson restaurants?
My love for this industry and enjoyment in dining out sends me exploring great places all across town. Not really feeling like narrowing it down is the way for me to go. I am excited by all the new, and I’m very loyal to all the tried and true. You will find me smiling at many local spots where I can enjoy a well-prepared plate. What makes me a regular somewhere is sincere service that represents the vision of the restaurateur and a great bartender… (mixologist… shrub smacker – whatever you want to call them). I find them to be amazing humans.
9. With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
Meal? I can’t eat when I am nervous.
I would ask for the chair to be at Scott & Co. and just say give me something with bourbon.