Nine On The Line With Chef Brandon Dillon of Agustin Kitchen

Brandon Dillon is Chef De Cuisine at Agustín Kitchen. A Tucson native, Dillon has cooked professionally in Tucson for nearly half of his life, including stints at Fuego, Starr Pass and Lodge at the Dessert. The current Agustín dynamic duo of Chef Dillon and Chef Ryan Clark continuously push the envelope with their take on farm to table cuisine.

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

The obvious answer would be my mother’s cooking, which definitely contributed. However, my passion for food really grew at a family reunion in Michigan when I was 16. I had just started working in the culinary industry. I was playing horseshoes at my aunt and uncles farm and they had the pit setup next to their raspberry bush. I really had never experienced eating food fresh from the tree, or ground, before. For breakfast the next day, we had farm fresh eggs, pancakes, and maple syrup that was tapped out of a maple tree nearby the day before. Those two days kind of opened my eyes to what real food is. The family values and nostalgia that food brings, fueled by the history and science is what I love. It brings something to the table for everyone.

What are you eating these days?

Since I am old now (the ripe age of 30), I really have to watch what I eat. But, being in the industry I do tend to break these rules a bit. Ryan Clark and I are on a barbecue kick as of lately. Recently I went to Franklins BBQ in Austin for the first time and I have to say it was incredible. Worth the hype. So, we are trying to get this barbecue thing down to a science. Other than that, I am a pork-a-holic. Everywhere I go, 9 times out 10, I will order a pork dish of some kind.

What was the first dish you remember cooking?

I was eight years old and I was determined to make my parents breakfast. I got up at 5am and made the biggest mess, and only mustered up some eggs and toast I believe. But it was one moment I will always remember. My mother often brings it up and speaks of it fondly.

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

Every chef and restaurant has their own style of cooking. I wouldn’t say I have a problem with it, but the big trend of “tweezer” chefs and small food portions is something that just really isn’t my thing. I remember cooking with a chef that had to use tweezers for every dish, and while the dishes looked beautiful, his ticket times were horrendous. If you have to use a microscope to see what you’re eating, I don’t really dig it. Tucson is just not a city for this type of trend, let’s keep it that way.

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

Dan Barber. He is the “farm to table” chef. I just started reading his book, The Third Plate, and am hooked. I would love to go to Manhattan and pick his brain.

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

Seattle. I met a lot of food “nerds” up there, and they took me and my girlfriend to some awesome restaurants. Aside from pork, I have an affinity for raw oysters and fresh seafood. My favorite oysters happen to be from the Pacific Northwest.

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

I love salt water taffy. I have a problem. Once I start, I can’t stop eating them. And being a child raised in the Southwest, the same goes with Mexican candy.

Top three Tucson restaurants?

I hate these questions… I have so many friends in Tucson that own restaurants, and there are so many that I love. These are 3 restaurants that I have been enjoying recently. Graze has a great burger, I love the concept and never had a bad experience. Poco & Moms. It’s friendly service and an amazing hole in the wall type of breakfast joint. And, Loews Ventana Canyon’s Blues, Brews, and BBQ brunch. All you can eat with unlimited local beers, enough said.

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

First course: oysters on the half shell, preferably some Chelsea Gems. Second course: bone in pork chop, “Oscar style” with braised onions and truffle fries. And, third course: mixed berry cobbler with pecan praline ice cream on top.

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

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