Nine on the Line: Chef C.J. Hamm of Saguaro Corners

Last modified on March 3rd, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Saguaro Corners Restaurant & Bar executive chef CJ Hamm (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Saguaro Corners Restaurant & Bar is lucky to have Executive Chef C.J. Hamm, who started the Nine on the Line series.

Though Hamm has written for Tucson Foodie, the Tucson Weekly, and judged various local food competitions, he has also worked in restaurants since he was fifteen.

Hamm’s previous stints include Cottonwood Cafe, Cafe Terra Cotta, Jackson Tavern, and Red’s Smokehouse + Tap Room.

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

My mother’s biscuits and gravy. When we were kids we would have friends over on the weekends, and she would make a vat for all of us. Seeing the joy and satisfaction she could bring to so many people at once, with just a few simple, humble, ingredients, really opened my eyes to what food could and should be.

2) What are you eating these days?

Being that it’s actually the few cold weeks a year that we get in Tucson, I am really into old school comfort foods with twists. Things like stews, pot roasts, chicken and dumplings but with different ingredients or techniques, are going on at the house and restaurant right now. Oh and tacos, always tacos.

3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?

I was about four years old and at my grandmother’s house. She was reading a Teddy Ruxpin book to me, and in the story, there was a recipe for some weird cookies. I asked my grandma if the recipe was real, she said there’s only one way to find out and we got to baking. End result — recipe was edible, but not good.

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

Well it’s a well-known fact that I can not stand raw onions, but that is a pretty boring answer.

So, I am going to go with something I hope qualifies as a “food trend.” Over modifying your dish when you go out to eat. I understand everyone has different tastes and dislikes, as well as allergies and such, and believe I am, overall, accommodating. However, when people go out to eat and change a dish that was thought out, tested and meaningful to the restaurant’s staff, so much that it is unrecognizable, it is disheartening.

5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?

Janos Wilder is my idol. However, I am fortunate enough that I have already had dinner with him, as well as cooked in his kitchen. Therefore, I am going with a different answer. Late night beers and chili dogs with Marco Pierre White and Anthony Bourdain. Have bail money ready.

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

This has always been a difficult question for me. There is so much offered by the places I have visited. The seafood and Chinese food in San Fran, the Cajun/Creole fare in N’Awlins, fish tacos and Thai in San Diego, hipster grub in Seattle, the fresh coastal cuisine in Kauai. However, if I have to choose one, I will go with New York City, due to the absolute vast variety of ethnic choices around every corner, plus pizza and hot dog carts.

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

See aforementioned — late night beers and chili dogs, then add Popeyes chicken and red beans and rice, tacos of all sorts, nachos with chiltepins, and ice cream.

8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?

I am glad you changed this question (previously “top three Tucson restaurants”). I would always ask my version of the number eight question of others and was pained by the thought of having to answer it myself. There are so many great places in Tucson, having to rate the top three is near impossible due to the fact that it changes, in my opinion, every day, maybe even every other hour, depending on what I am looking for.

Now that the question asks which three I most frequent, it is much easier, because it’s a numbers game, rather than what am I currently in the mood for or into at the moment.

  1. Wei Asian Cafe – Great little family restaurant with awesome food.
  2. Taqueria Jason – It’s close and it has tacos.
  3. El Sur – I am a Tucson boy, so I need my old school Sonoran fix with my bottomless chips and salsa bowls on the regular.

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

Bottle of Macallan 30-year Scotch, my answers to #1 and #7, Janos’ lamb tongue tacos, Thai spicy pork panang curry from Bai Thong, Jerk chicken from CeeDee’s, grandma’s chicken and dumplings, dad’s sour cream enchiladas, wife’s chili, mother in law’s chicken adobo, sister’s goat cheese jalapeno thingy, step pop’s coq au vin, some gumbo, another bottle of Scotch, and a reprieve form.

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He enjoys neon-lit dinners and long crab walks on the beach. If you'd like to stalk him, visit jackietran.com.