Nine On The Line With Chef John May From Sauce

Chef John May was born in Ontario, Canada, but relocated to Tucson with his family at the age of four. From the time he could see over the kitchen counter top, May watched his mother and grandmother work their southern cooking magic.

Chef May’s first job was at the former Scordato’s restaurant and he has worked in many notable Tucson restaurants ever since, such as Le Rendezvous, The Gallery, Spice, and NoRTH Italia. He is currently the Executive Chef of Sauce in Casas Adobes.

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

Mussels mariniere. The flavors were so simple but bold – garlic, thyme, wine and butter all infused with the delicious brine sea flavor of the mussels. I was 16 and had never tried anything like it. After that I wanted to know all I could about food to expand my palate.

What are you eating these days?

When working, I can’t get enough lighter fare seasonal salads, fruits and veggies (nothing too heavy). Off work I can’t get enough classic Sonoran cooking—tamales or chicken mole with rice and homemade tortillas. Those are my current addictions.

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What was the first dish you remember cooking?

Peach cobbler with my grandmother. She and my mom are both fantastic down home southern cooks and fix a big spread any chance they get. I used to help make the homemade peach cobbler and she never cared that I ate half the peaches.

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

Stuffed or flavored pizza crusts. They taste like anything but pizza. A hot dog in a pizza crust? Really? Great ingredients and care for the craft make a great pie.

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

Thomas Keller. He teaches and emphasizes how important the quality and care of the ingredients are from field to table. His philosophy of ingredients and care inspire me as a chef.

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

San Francisco. The spectrum of food and influences on the city is always a culinary adventure. Just being able to sit on the old pier and have a flat iron burger and garlic fries at Reds Java House with the whole bay right at your feet is a slice of paradise for me.

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

Maple nut goodies. Can’t get enough of the candied peanut goodness. I also have a thing for taco flavored Doritos, and I don’t think I’ve ever passed on a bacon cheeseburger.

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Top three Tucson restaurants?

Kingfisher, Casa Molina, and North Italia.

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

I’d start with Caprese Bruschetta. Basil, tomato and garlic with hand stretched mozzarella—flavors that started my love for cooking. Next would be braised beef short ribs with pommes frites and grilled asparagus. I’d finish with a dessert of Spike’s salted caramel budino and my grandmothers peach cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream.

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

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