Nine On The Line With John Farlow

Although PR maven John Farlow was born in Montana, the former line cook considers himself a Tucson native since he moved here for high school. His first experience with food was working the concession stand at Cineworld on Speedway, which is why he still doesn’t order nachos or popcorn at the movies to this day.

From Cineworld, Farlow went on to cook at the original Philly’s Finest, where he believes he still lays claim to the world record for the most cheesesteaks ever cooked at one time by one person (36). The emphasis his first boss placed on good quality, authenticity of ingredients, great service and playful experimentation remain as important to him as ever, even though he’s long since moved to the paying side of the counter.

When he’s not working his day job in public relations, Farlow can be found enjoying one his three favorite things: eating, drinking and live music at places such as Lindy’s on 4th, Hotel Congress’ Tap Room or the Rialto Theatre, where he also serves on the Board.

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

The first breakthrough experience I can remember was steak and lobster from the Beaumont Club, a fancy supper club at a racetrack in Belgrade, Montana. Sounds boring now, but I was maybe 8 or so when my grandfather introduced me to my first tail doused in drawn butter. I’ve been powerless to resist the rich, succulent crustacean ever since. He also taught me (in a not-so-nice tone) that putting ketchup on a prime Montana t-bone was a major faux pas in our household. To this day, I still cringe when I see someone do it.

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What are you eating these days?

A better question would probably be “what aren’t you eating these days?” I eat everything. Most people would probably tell you bacon, at least judging from what they constantly post on my Facebook wall, but I’m really into southeast Asian these days – Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino – both when dining out and cooking at home. I love the depth of flavors and ingredients. It seems to light up every sense and taste. Plus, I think it’s even better than menudo for hangovers.

What was the first dish you remember cooking?

Cinnamon puffs from the “Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls.” They were just Pillsbury biscuits dipped in melted butter (sense a theme here?) and rolled in cinnamon sugar, but damn were they good when warm. It was the first cook book my mother ever bought me and I’ll be forever grateful, even if my waistline isn’t.

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

Kale. How this bitter, hard, nasty salad bar/produce section garnish caught on for actual consumption is beyond me. Kale chips, kale on pizza and burgers…the madness has to stop. Even McDonald’s has jumped into the game with kale shakes. I’d rather eat the dirt kale is grown in.

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

Emeril Lagasse. “BAM!” Yeah, I said it. Besides seeming to be an all-around cool dude, Emeril just knows how to make flavors work together without measuring anything. In that respect, he and I cook a lot alike, which is why I’m not a baker. I hate measuring things and really like tasting. Plus, anyone who cooks with that much cayenne, sugar, alcohol and pork fat can’t be wrong. I’ve made a bunch of his recipes and every single one was a hit, especially his chili.

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

New Orleans. I’ve only been once – something I need to remedy – but [during the] entire time I was there, I never had a bad meal, including the jambalaya at the airport. Seems like a place that everyone can cook well. Gumbo from The Gumbo Shop, beignets and coffee from Café Du Monde, muffalettas from Central Grocery, or Breaux Bridge Benedict from this little place called Stanley, NOLA is foodie paradise. I could be there for a month and never repeat a meal.

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

It’s a tie between pizza and original McDonald’s cheeseburgers (not McDoubles or anything new like that, as they don’t have the proper warm ketchup-mustard-onion-beef ratio). Both hold a deep place in my heart that goes way back to my childhood. I could seriously eat pizza every meal and never get bored. However, if I need to find my happy place, or if I’m not feeling well, I head straight for the Golden Arches. It drives my wife nuts because, unlike me, she actually cares about what I ingest and knows I probably won’t feel well after, either.

Top three Tucson restaurants?

This is way too hard a question to answer, but I’ll try. By the way, Saint House Rum Bar was one of my favorites until it closed. Rum is my favorite spirit and their Ropa Vieja might have been one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Travis and Nicole need to bring this back to their menu at 47 Scott. As for now, I’d choose Downtown Kitchen, because anything Janos makes, especially with duck, is incredible. Wildflower is amazing and certainly wins the dessert game with Bars of Sin. Finally, and I know it’s a chain, but Chef Jonathan Stutzman at Bob’s Steak and Chop House at Tucson Omni might serve the best steak I’ve ever had – the prime “cote de boeuf” bone-in ribeye. Wow. He also serves a very unique and tasty beef tenderloin tip appetizer with mesquite honey and blue cheese. That dish alone is worth the trip, but even better when paired with one of their house martinis.

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

Most who know me probably think I’ve already prepared for this day. Since this is pretend, I’d probably eat my way down the coast of California, starting with the Rosemary Pizzetta from Tra Vigne in Napa, a lobster roll from Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon, an In-n-Out Double Double Animal Style and Animal Style fries from anywhere in the state, and finish it all off with a churro and Monte Cristo sandwich, arguably the greatest sandwich ever invented, from Blue Bayou in Disneyland. I would skip every ride there just to eat that sandwich.

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