"Nine on the Line" is a chef Q&A series asking a different chef nine questions in each article.
Chef Adrian Castillo began his culinary career at the Art Institute of Tucson while washing dishes at Lodge on the Desert. A couple years later, he earned a spot cooking.
After cooking with companies such as Marriott and Fox Restaurant Concepts, he earned his place as chef de cuisine at Elvira’s in Tucson. Next was BIRD Modern Provisions & Bar, then everything came full circle with him becoming the executive chef at Cielos at Lodge on the Desert.
1) What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
Monkfish and braised oxtail from the French Laundry cookbook. It’s like that saying, we started from the bottom now we here. Well, these are not the fanciest, easiest, or most popular cuts to cook, but the way the recipe transforms and makes everything come together is unreal.
2) What are you eating these days?
Man, I have such little free time. Nowadays, the little free time I have is spent with my little girls and I let them pick every time. I’m happy enough with the good company, but our favorites and most frequented are Frankie’s, Los Betos, and Texas Roadhouse.
3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?
Mexican macaroni and cheese. This is the first dish I learned to make because it was one of my favorites. I remember everyone from my aunts, older cousins, and older sisters making it for me as a kid at around eight or nine. I just took it into my own hands and still, to this day, it’s one of my most-requested meals — my daughters’ favorite.
4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?
Modern Mexican. The soul of Mexican cuisine will always be deep in the roots, as far back as generations. OK, that’s not a bad thing, but for me being a young chef from the Southwest, I can’t help but want to add my own little spin or touch. You have to understand how much I respect the ingredients and the techniques to also understand I don’t want to change the dish or make it better. I just want to portray it in my own light. Chefs like Enrique Olvera, Carlos Salgado, a whole bunch of chefs from LA and Cali for that matter, Carlos Gaytan — all chefs I study and look up to. I just want to be a part of the movement.
5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
I would say either Enrique Olvera from Pujol or 2pac and Biggie. All idols at one point in Adrian’s life.
6) What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
Mission Beach. Some of my best memories as a kid was being on summer vacation with my mom seeing the ocean and the sand. I was scared to get in but I loved the ocean. I remember eating these peanut butter crunch waffles, that was straight stupid, OMG it was amazing. The fish taco? C’mon, crazy.
7) Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Burger King. There is one right by my house and I touch it up every chance I get.
8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?
This is a hard question. I don’t get out much, it’s pathetic, but the last three I went to were Dante’s Fire, OBON Sushi Bar Ramen, and the Buffet. Those hot dogs are classic. Just moved to the far east side, so I’m looking forward to checking out Saguaro Corners, which is right down the street.
9) With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
Oddly enough, I’ve had the answer to this in my back pocket for many years. It’s always been my mom’s beef tacos. As far as I can remember, on every birthday or special day to me, my mom made me these tacos and they touch my soul like nothing else. Almost every household in this fine city has these tacos in their individual cookbooks, but it’s something about your mom’s cooking that just makes it better. Shout-out Cruz Castillo, you’re the real champ.
Catch Adrian Castillo at Cielos at Lodge on the Desert, 306 N. Alvernon Way. For more information, visit lodgeonthedesert.com.