Nine On The Line With Chef Armando Duarte, Royal Café & Catering

Chef Armando Duarte realized his passion for cooking at an early age.

“Every summer I would spend with my grandmother,” Duarte recalled,  “she would have me help her with making dinner.”

After high school he enrolled at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. Taking things into a whole new direction, following college, Chef Duarte took on an untraditional role and opened Royal Cafe and Catering at Royal Kia – yes the auto dealership.

Chef Duarte described his style of cooking as, “fusion of different cuisines including Asian, Italian, Mexican, Greek and barbecue.

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

I would have to say eating my nana’s tamales. They were not only the best in town but I would see the smiles and happiness they would bring to people. It helped me realize the effect good food has on people.

What are you eating these days?

I’ve been on an Asian soup kick with pho and ramen. I can’t tell what has me hooked the most – the noodles or the pork belly. It sure reminds me of traditional Mexican soups. Basically making a great stock from bones and other cuts and other inexpensive ingredients.

What was the first dish you remember cooking?

Since both parents worked, often I would stay home alone and fend for myself. One summer I learned how to cook pasta perfectly. And that was all I ate. I remember tossing it with a little butter, garlic and parmesan.

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

I would probably have to say chain restaurants. From being a small business owner having to compete with the million dollar corporations, it’s hard. I give many props to all the local mom and pop businesses that have made it for many years and can only wish them more luck in the future. Eat Local!

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

My friend Gino Marinelli. He owned a restaurant on the north side of town and was a instructor at Flowing Wells High School. We both worked part-time at the Elks Lodge, as well. He is deeply missed by friends, students and family.

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

I love Las Vegas! I have friends and family that love to go Las Vegas to drink and gamble. Me? I go for the awesome diversity of food in the city.

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

I am not really into sweets or desserts. But I love seafood and sushi.

What are your top three Tucson restaurants?

This was such a hard question that I thought really long, I even asked my tons of Facebook friends to get their input. There are so many good places. My number three would be PY Steakhouse at Casino del Sol. Number two is Vivace, and my number one restaurant in Tucson would be Suzana Davila’s Cafe Poca Cosa.

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

Easily my Mother’s Sonoran-style flat enchiladas. She takes fresh masa that’s pan fried in oil and topped with her homemade red chili sauce and a shredded cheese and olive mix.

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

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