"We Asked Chefs" is a regular feature in which we ask local Tucson chefs a range of questions about chef life and food.
"The Cali Roll. It's the gateway into sushi for most people who want to try but don't yet like the idea of eating raw fish."
View our October 2017 Nine on the Line with Tommy Begay.
"This is a no-brainer for me. I would say the one thing I couldn’t take off the menu is mole.
I have two on the menu right now. Making mole is complex and it takes great attention to detail. With so many different ingredients, styles, and types, it can easily go the wrong way. Mole is very much a regional dish and varies from state to state in Mexico. To me, making mole from scratch is almost like paying respect to my elders and the little old ladies making mole in the street markets of Mexico City or Puebla. I’ll never be able to come close to those moles, but if I treat each ingredient and stage with love and respect, I'll maybe be able to put my stamp on it.
There is a mole for every season and every occasion. Moles can be paired with different seasonal ingredients and proteins. The possibilities are endless. Here, at Cielos, we have already started testing our next mole for fall and one we will be doing special for the American Liver Foundation Flavors dinner in early October. I have to give respect to Ruben Monroy of Elvira's Tubac and downtown Tucson for giving me a true education on such a beautiful and complex staple of the culture."
"We have many outlets at Casino Del Sol. If I had to pick one dish from each:
Ume Asian and Sushi: Ume Del Sol Roll – spicy tuna roll, topped with salmon, furikake flakes, spicy aioli, flambéed tableside.
PY Steakhouse: 22 oz. Cowboy Rib Eye – Whiskey Del Bac rubbed and dry aged 28-35 days.
Moby’s Diner: Our Classic Cheeseburgers.
Festa International Buffet: Seafood Night at the Buffet – all you can eat snow crab legs.
Tequila Factory: All the cocktails – Doc is a mastermind with agave.
StreetScape Pizza and Deli: Our new slice with seasonal Pivot Produce.
Prema Lounge: Hot Wings – cured in citrus zest and salt and tossed in Cholula butter."
"Our Brussels Sprouts. They are our top-selling non-pizza menu item. Nearly every table gets an order. We have converted a lot of haters to fans with our Brussels and people go pretty crazy over them. If we took them off the menu, people would freak out."
View our February 2017 Nine on the Line with Tyler Fenton.
"Nothing. There is literally nothing I wouldn't or couldn't take off of a menu. I think stagnation is a chef's worst enemy. There is always something that can be changed, improved, updated, or scrapped altogether.
Obviously, there are some things that will always sell well, like godforsaken quesadillas, (still baffles me that grown-ups go out to eat and order these), so they probably won't ever be taken off, but I'd be more than willing to get rid of them, or anything, in a heartbeat. "
View our March 2017 Nine on the Line with CJ Hamm.
"Our menu changes each month, but in Feast's infancy, there was once a dockworkers' strike in Los Angeles, and we weren't able to get the halloumi cheese we use for our Feast grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich — seared halloumi cheese with honey-roasted eggplant, shaved red onion and roasted tomato — had been a favorite of our earlier regular guests, and there was so much outcry that we promised that, once we were able to get the cheese again, a brined sheep's milk cheese from Cypress, that we'd never take it off the menu again.
I'd love to have no sacred cows on the menu, but that dish and our chocolate truffle cookies are the only two dishes who thus far haven't been kicked off, despite the fact that we've now offered over 250 different menus since we've opened."
View our September 2017 Nine on the Line with Doug Levy.
"I’ve always told my crews that no item is 'sacred' on any menu. To progress, dishes must evolve and get better and better each time you do them. I have only reached a 'final form' on a couple of dishes where I thought they were absolutely perfect and then once they reach that point, it’s time to start all over again.
Some dishes, though, that have been incredibly popular that I’ll let live on for a couple more seasons are:
Chorizo Mac & Cheese. An homage to my beginnings in the industry on our menu at Commoner & Co. This dish reminds me of the first time I tasted real handmade mac at Montana Ave (my first job in a kitchen). With the addition of warm heat from the local chorizo, it really sets it off. It has quickly become a staple in the neighborhood.
Everything Sammie at Prep & Pastry. This dish is heavily inspired by the quaint and trendy brunch spots in NYC. My wife and I used to take the train from the Berkshires to the city every chance we got and often found ourselves sitting in a small café, people watching and sharing a croissant sandwich over coffee. Our Everything Croissant Sammie has a little bit of everything you would want for breakfast: light, fluffy eggs, prosciutto, pesto, melted cheese, all on a toasted, everything-seasoned croissant.
We are in full development mode for fall menus for both concepts, and I’m extremely excited to create more of these 'never take this off your menu' items that make dining experiences that much more romantic and memorable."
View our March 2017 Nine on the Line with Kyle Nottingham.
"It's gotta be the Montana Cuban Torta. Or the Picoso, those are our most popular tortas. But I can't get rid of our tacos of course."
"Alcohol. I need it. You need it. They need it. Zombie monkeys need it."
View our April 2017 Nine on the Line with Travis Peters.
"Our Eggs Provençal."
"The one thing we can never take off our menu is the Godfather Benedict. We created this dish as an ode to all of our favorite things with our fresh crumpet, topped with thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma, arugula, soft poached eggs, our perfectly tangy hollandaise finished with a sweet balsamic drizzle. It's been a hit since day one. It's by far the most popular dish on our menu. It has become a staple."
View our September 2015 Nine on the Line with Nikki & Matt Thompson.
"Crispy Calamari with candied ginger, watercress, Oaxacan peanuts and green chili vinaigrette."
"Our Patat Oorlog (translation: War Fries) are never going anywhere. One, because I love them, and two, because it is so uniquely Dutch and highlights our history with the spice trade. War Fries are our house-made French fries with a peanut sauce we make using sambal, soy sauce, garlic and onions, and then we dump that on top of the fries, add a bunch of mayo and some raw onions. Lekker!"
View our July 2017 Nine on the Line with Marcus van Winden.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...