Nine On The Line With Karyn Zoldan

For those who have been following the Tucson food scene for a while, the name Karyn Zoldan should ring a bell.

In 2003, Karyn launched the well-known local food column, Noshing Around, for the Tucson Weekly. Though, she says she’s “about 75% retired and loving it,” Zoldan keeps busy with her ‘Circle of Food’ blog, co-hosting On The Menu Live every so often, and writing for Arizona Foothills Magazine online and Where Tucson Guestbook. She also is an outspoken voice for animal rescues and charities.

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

Probably sushi. I grew up in the Midwest in a kosher Jewish household so we ate a lot of really filling Eastern European food. The sandwiches in my lunch box were made of rye bread but I yearned for that white spongy Wonder Bread which mom never bought. I didn’t taste bacon until high school. And around the same time visited a cosmopolitan aunt who made guacamole. It wasn’t until moving to L.A. when I graduated college that I began to taste ethnic food. In the 70s I worked in civil service with people of many nationalities; someone brought sushi to potlucks and this was 10 years prior to sushi trending. Living in L.A. with a curious palate changed my perspective on food in the best way possible.

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What are you eating these days?

I eat a lot of salads and plant-based meals. I’m eating less meat and unfortunately less cheese because I am trying to lower my cholesterol without taking dreaded statins.

What was the first dish you remember cooking?

I was in 6th grade and back then male teachers were rare. First we had a model airplane building contest for the boys and then had a baking contest for the girls. My mother wanted me to make a layer cake or chocolate chip cookies but I wanted to make a pizza. I had never made a pizza before but I wanted to make a Chef Boyardee pizza that came in a box. I got up really early and made it before going to school so of course, it still smelled good and sat among all the chocolate chip cookies and cakes. I won. I won a model airplane kit.

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

Super foods. Give me a break. The only thing super about them is the supposed branding. It’s like the overuse of the word natural.

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

Roy Choi, bad boy turned food truck entrepreneur when the Korean taco was born under the Kogi brand. Last year I read his memoir, L.A. Son.

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

Los Angeles. The city is an amazing melting pot of tastes, especially Thai, regional Chinese and Japanese food. (Tucson needs a good dim sum place by the way.) When we think of Japanese food, we limit it to sushi, ramen and bento boxes but its variety is far greater. I was also an early fan of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger before they became famous as Two Hot Tamales. I loved their tiny City Diner on Melrose which blossomed into City Restaurant on La Brea. I still make a few dishes from that cookbook.

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

Frozen mini peanut butter cups, savory popcorn and really good ice cream – sometimes all together for the ultimate nosh.

Top three Tucson restaurants?

  1. Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails. I’d follow Janos anywhere for his creative cocktails, summer passport inventions, and happiest of happy hours.
  2. Elvira’s in Tubac (close enough). Molés to die for plus the 50 cent tequila shot and that wildly colorful interior. I’m so excited they are coming to downtown.
  3. North Italia for brunch on the patio.

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

Since I’m in the last trimester of my life, I actually think about my last meal. I’d like to nibble it away with some good friends remembering good times. Unlimited Veuve Clicquot to drink; rustic cheeses from our local wine and cheese stop, Blu; warm crusty baguette slathered with sweet butter, a side car of fig jam, olives – lots of different kinds of olives; a box of exquisite chocolate truffles flown in from Norman Love and a chocolate jalapeno sundae from DK&C. I’d also like a really comforting bowl of green chile pork stew from Poco & Mom’s.

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

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