Nine On The Line With Jared McKinley of Edible Baja Arizona

Photo Credit: Jared McKinley

Local food enthusiasts know Jared McKinley as founding member and Associate Publisher of Edible Baja Arizona.

McKinley’s unique food perspective comes from his focus on the plant world. The garden that he kept as a hobby and academic interest drove him right into the kitchen – processing and preserving all the produce he was growing.

Now it’s a part of McKinley’s everyday lifestyle, cooking and growing as much of his own food as possible.

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

As a child, I used to forage for wild berries in the Pacific Northwest, where they grow everywhere. That experience made me understand where food comes from.

What are you eating these days?

I eat everything. Because of my work and my politics, I have been emphasizing eating locally, which means getting as many of my ingredients for daily consumption from local sources: farmers, ranchers, local food artisans, and of course, my own garden. I raise my own heritage-breed chickens, turkeys and bees. But I do eat out a lot because of my job, and because I love to.

What was the first dish you remember cooking?

Ravioli, from scratch, while my family was at work. I was 6 or 7 and I used to watch a lot of PBS. I got in trouble with my grandmother when she got home because I made a big mess. However, the end result, despite the support of my family, was pretty good.

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

Certain aspects of vegetarianism. I am eating less meat these days because of the damage industrial meat does to the economy and environment, but I think all living things suffer. I don’t believe it’s fair to suggest that just because you understand and relate to an animal more, its life is worth any more than a plant, fungus, or bacteria. As a biologist, I respect all living things, but I also have to eat. Plus, industrial vegetable agriculture is more damaging to the environment than what a small rancher does. I believe in keeping production in the hands of smaller producers who can pay attention to details.

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

Julia Child. Mostly because I know we’d have fun and would be drinking wine while we cooked.

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

New York City. Duh.

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

Oh man, I am so ashamed that I have a thing for Doritos. If I go purchase gas at a Circle K, I cannot stop myself from picking up those crappy little bags of garbage food which represent everything I don’t believe in. But I don’t like being self-righteous about food. Food snobbery sucks and I would rather eat junk food and have fun than have a meal with a food nazi who is intrusive about their dietary beliefs. As much as food is about quality, it is also about the company you keep, and the company I like to keep is honest and real. We all succumb to junk food sometimes.

Top three Tucson restaurants?

I hate this question. There are so many great places to eat and I try to eat at all of them. For upscale eating, Primo at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort. For Mexican, The Little One, formally known as Little Poca Cosa. The love you get with the food makes it my favorite place not just in Tucson, but in the world. For just an old school Tucson eatery, I have to say Crossroads. I hope nobody gets mad at me for omitting them, it really is an unfair question for someone who eats out as much as I do.

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

I would pair some Camembert cheese (the real stuff), bread crisps and a nice glass of Carménère from Chile. I like light meals with a nice wine, and want to die with the texture and flavor of Camembert in my mouth.

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