The Parish executive chef and co-owner Travis Peters creates "down southern home cooking" with modern technique and creativity.
Almost 25 years ago, Peters began his culinary career as a dishwasher at Mama Louisa's. After a year-and-a-half at now-closed Cajun/Creole Nonie Restaurant, he became chef. Stints followed at Old Pueblo Grille and McMahon's Prime Steakhouse, before landing the executive chef position at the Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress.
Since 2011, Peters has comfortably experimented at his own restaurant the Parish.
1) What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
My dad is a rancher and has to round up calves every once in a while on the ranch he works on to castrate and brand the calves. There is a big open fire getting the brands hot in the bull pen where the deeds are done, it's kind of scary the first time you witness it. In just under a minute he cuts off the balls, tosses 'em in water, brands a calf and sends them down a cattle chute where someone gives them a big bottle of milk to feel better. Once they're all branded, he used the same hot steel to toss all testicles with butter and onions. It's absolutely hardcore and cowboy as hell. This made me appreciate where my food came from and all cuts of the animal, more restaurants should serve these things.
The second, and much less exciting story, was when I was watching an old episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and someone asked for the secret to his amazing bacon. He told them he simply put a little brown sugar on it before cooking. I immediately tried it and my mind was blown. I've been experimenting with flavors ever since.
2) What are you eating these days?
Tripas burritos from the little cafeteria in the back of El Herradero on Prince Road, it will seriously change your life, and the menudo from Angela's Mexican Food in Marana. I can't get enough of either.
3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?
The very first thing I remember was around age four. My dad pulled a ton of crawfish out of Rose Canyon Lake and hauled them down to our house. He dumped them in one of those blue kiddie pools and and all the neighbors showed up for a big cook out. He let me help purge them with the hose and he let the crawfish pinch me if I messed with them too much. We cooked and ate all of them in our front yard with all our friends. It was a beautiful day that I will never forget.
4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?
Oh man, I don't even know where to start, what aren't we experimenting with? Hot sauce gummy bears. We've been smoking, fermenting, dehydrating, curing, and cooking so many different experimental things since the day we opened. In particular, this has been a fun exciting year over at the Parish and next year is looking even more bananas. I have always just done my own thing as far as trends go. I've never cared or kept up with up them, which is probably why we started our southern restaurant six years ago before it was the trend. I simply love food, all food, and yes, that can even include some vegan items.
5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
I've been getting to cook with a lot of amazing chefs in Tucson lately and I do hope that trend continues. I'd love to cook with chef Obie over at the Mountain Oyster Club. He makes some of the most amazing food I've ever seen and I truly believe he is one of the most underrated chefs in this city since they aren't open to the public. His passion and knowledge are so infectious. I've known him since I was a dumb 15-year-old punk rocker kid at the DPC.
As far as eating, I think Andrew Zimmern has one of the most interesting jobs in the world and I'd like to be his sidekick for a while and get that global appreciation for foods and cultures, as traveling and eating are two of my favorite things to do.
6) What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
I don't even know how to answer this one. There are so many great cities for food and every year we try to visit as many as possible. Almost any city in the south bring it straight to my heart both literally and figuratively. This year we are doing a southern food tour by driving through the south that I may not survive. I love fatty, juicy Texas brisket so very much, Austin and Dallas are toss ups for that.
7) Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I really don't like sweets at all, but every once in a blue moon I get an uncontrollable craving for cookies and milk. Not a few mind you, I'm literally talking about sitting down with a tall glass of milk and dunking until I eat a couple boxes of them at once. It's really gross.
8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?
This is a hard answer because my wife and I don't get a lot of date nights, but when we do we try a new place each time, so technically we haven't frequented too many simply because we want to try them all. But the most recent bites we have had were at the Coronet, who are making the kind of food I adore. The BCB & JJ at Ermanos Craft Beer & Wine Bar was so simple but so delicious, I found myself thinking about it for a week. The burnt ends at Red's Smokehouse + Tap Room, my wife has talked about these for months. Some kind of crazy beef appetizer that chef Gary Hickey made for our anniversary was fucking awesome. I honestly can't wait to try every restaurant in Tucson.
9) With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
This is the only easy question for me to answer. I would have my mom's meatloaf so that I could see her just one more time. It would be with the chocolate milkshake that she wasn't able to have before she passed.
Keep up with the Parish on Facebook to see more of Chef Peters' delectable unorthodox creations ranging from savory gummy bears to crispy pigtails.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he...