Nine On The Line With Chef Bruce Bowden of Cafe 54

Throughout his career, Café 54’s Bruce Bowden has prepared food for people from all walks of life. From Julia Childs to to the homeless, his deep love for cooking is matched only by his aspiration to help improve the lives of marginalized people.

Working at Café 54 has reconciled these two great joys, melding cooking and compassion in a non-profit bistro that serves up fresh local foods and trains individuals recovering from mental illness.

What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?

My older sister, who was studying art, took me to a macrobiotic restaurant in the Back Bay of Boston in 1968. It was a very hippie and bohemian scene. This meal made a huge impression on me. Hijiki seaweed, short grain brown rice, Bancha tea and adzuki beans. It was wildly exotic for the time and gave me a sense there was a great big food world out there for my 12 year old palate and imagination.

What are you eating these days?

Tacos. Always tacos. I love coconut oil at the moment. Fresh eggs and goat cheese from the farmers market along with fresh local greens and tomatoes.

What was the first dish you remember cooking?

I made whole wheat bread once when my Mom was away (who was a wonderful baker). The bread came out really heavy and dense. I called her and asked why it wasn’t very good. She asked, “Did you let it rise?” I replied: “Rise?” Lesson learned. I also made a successful campfire Dutch oven beef stew for my cooking merit badge in Boy Scouts.

What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can’t stomach?

Raw kale. Along with the trend that adding bacon to a dish is immediately amazing. I don’t get it.

What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?

Alright, I’ve always had a dude crush on Anthony Bourdain. So dinner and drinks with Tony. Or go back in time and eat my Uncle Nate’s food.

What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?

Seattle. The oysters, salmon, produce, flowers, coffee and wine – it’s foodie heaven.

Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Chocolate covered pretzels from Trader Joe’s. A double double from In ‘N’ Out with French fries.

Top three Tucson restaurants?

There’s so many I’d like to try, but over the years in Tucson: Kingfisher, Miss Saigon, and Char’s Thai.

With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?

Grilled beef tenderloin, roasted red potatoes and grilled asparagus and a bottle of Malbec to go into the void with.

C.J. Hamm is a native Tucsonan and has been covering the local culinary and cocktail scene since 2012.