Local Female Chefs Serve Selflessly at Vida / Celebrating Women Festival, March 9

Our region’s greatest female chefs share their heart for the community by serving up spectacular dishes for you to taste.

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, Tucson’s first annual boutique festival Vida / Celebrating Women is giving back to the community.

Not only are all profits from Vida tickets sales being donated to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, but the fierce female faces of Tucson’s food and beverage industry have poured their time and skills into the festival, working tirelessly to prepare delicious dishes for you to enjoy this weekend.

Each of the women will prepare a special dish (or drink) for the Vida / Celebrating Women festivalheld behind the Historic Train Depot at Maynards Market & Kitchen downtown from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 9.

Head to Vida to taste the culinary delights from each featured female chef.

Wendy Gauthier of Chef Chic

Chef Wendy Gauthier (Credit: Ryan Hammond of Hammond Photography)

Chef Wendy Gauthier (Credit: Ryan Hammond of Hammond Photography)

Wendy Gauthier worked as a chef at local restaurants Canyon Ranch and Flying V Bar & Grill before starting her own business in 2001. Chef Chic, her brainchild, gave Gauthier the opportunity she’d hoped for — to create a personal experience for people with food.

Gauthier aims to create that “wow-factor” — the food, the service, and the experience must excite and entice you.

Not only has she achieved what she set out to do, but she’s also bagged numerous awards in the process. Gauthier received ASBA’S SASIE award for “Best Customer Service”, NAWBO’S “Business Women of the Year”, Tucson Newspaper’s 40 under 40 winner, and the United States Personal Chefs Association’s “Personal Chef of the Year” for all of North America. Wow, indeed.

Vida / Celebrating Women

At Vida this year, she’s plating a Sweet Pea Panna Cotta with crab salad, mango dashi sorbet, crab tuile, and micro greens. Swing by and come say hi (and/or get her autograph)!

Janet Jones of Tanque Verde Guest Ranch

Hacienda del Lago executive chef Janet Jones (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Executive chef Janet Jones (Credit: Jackie Tran)

From humble beginnings, chef Janet Jones has risen from the ashes.

Jones is a fast learner and made her way from Burger King at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to business- and culinary school with the desire to become an executive chef.

With mentors such as chef Kevin Fink (now chef-owner of Emmer & Rye) and chef Justin Macy (previously at Tanque Verde Ranch), she has gained knowledge and skills that surpass her years.

Jones now holds the title of executive sous chef at Tanque Verde Guest Ranch and continues soaking up experiences and experimenting with flavors.

Vida / Celebrating Women

Jones’ dish at Vida will feature Fermented Pickles and Baby Beets atop house-made, dark, torn rye bread with local quark goat cheese and smoked nopales sauce.

Mixologist Stephanie Kingman of The Parish

Mixologist Stephanie Kingman (Credit: Shana Rose Gegantoca)

Mixologist Stephanie Kingman (Credit: Shana Rose Gegantoca)

Stephanie Kingman discovered The Parish in 2016 and has been crafting creative cocktails ever since. But it didn’t start that way.

Kingman found her calling by working in the service industry. She worked at a variety of local restaurants before stumbling upon a bartending opportunity at an Italian restaurant. Her exposure to Italian wines and liquors deepened her knowledge of the trade, solidifying the basics of crafting cocktails, and set the stage for her creativity to flourish.

Representing Tucson

It was in June 2017 that Kingman’s skills were publicly acknowledged – at The Carriage House during the Tucson Feeds Paris Cocktail Challenge run by James Beard award-winning chef Janos Wilder. Bartenders Kris Carr, then representing The Parish, and Kingman competed against five local chefs to create an iconic Tucson cocktail. Their Ahumado Fresca, an adult raspado with aged Sotol liquor, stole the show. The cocktail then made it’s way, on the City of Gastronomy Designation Reception Menu, to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris to represent the city of Tucson.

Kingman has nine years of experience behind the bar but has seen the most growth as a mixologist in the last four, crafting cocktails. “I’m excited to build my knowledge and strength behind the bar with such an amazing [crew],” she said when asked about working at The Parish.

Vida / Celebrating Women

This weekend at Vida, Kingman will be pouring both a specialty Strawberry-Rose Lemonade and themed Sand-Reckoner Wine-based Sangria flavored with mango, mint, and habernero. Step on over and sip away.

Maria Mazon of BOCA Tacos y Tequila

Chef and owner Maria Mazon at BOCA Tacos y Tequila (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chef and owner Maria Mazon at BOCA Tacos y Tequila (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Without formal culinary training, one would think it hard to open a restaurant and don a toque blanche. And you’re probably right. Chef Maria Mazon, however, did just that.

Once Mazon discovered her love for cooking, nothing was going to stop her from venturing down a culinary path — training or no training.

The Tucson-born BOCA Tacos y Tequila founder, owner, and executive chef started her career by serving at Papagayo Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, which inspired her to open a catering company and later, a restaurant.

Vida / Celebrating Women

You can find her at the Vida festival this weekend, where she’ll be serving Organic Mushroom Chicharrón with a chile verde pea purée, ricotta, and chile guajillo carrot sauce.

Rica Rances of The Parish

Sous chef Ricazsandria Rances plating at a Gastronomic Union of Tucson (GUT) dinner at the Carriage House (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Sous chef Ricazsandria Rances plating at a Gastronomic Union of Tucson (GUT) dinner at the Carriage House (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Sous chef Rica Rances grew up in the Philippines and with a family connected to the food industry, naturally followed in their footsteps. Rances’ sister was the inspiration behind her culinary pursuit.

Rances’ first step was to leave the Philippines and make her way to Arizona. It was in Scottsdale that she attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Rances then moved to Tucson and it was here that she joined The Parish family as their sous chef.

Vida / Celebrating Women

Rances will be serving Confit Sunrise Beets marinated in preserved orange aji amarillo with Brunost siphon, fennel oil, fermented honey garlic glazed pancetta, and lavender haze at Vida.

Gina Skelton of Casino Del Sol

Executive pastry chef Gina Skelton (Credit: Shana Rose Gegantoca)

Executive pastry chef Gina Skelton (Credit: Shana Rose Gegantoca)

With 21 years of experience in the culinary industry under her belt, executive pastry chef Gina Skelton is firing on all cylinders to provide sweet goods to the city of Tucson.

When her hands aren’t deep in pastry (providing baked treats for various Casino Del Sol event spaces, restaurants, and eateries), you can find her at major events showcasing her intricate dessert masterpieces or running the day-to-day operations at Casino del Sol’s Sweetscape Bakeshop.

Skelton has been working at Casino Del Sol since 2005 – yes, folks, that’s 14 years now.

She started as sous chef at Bellissimo and advanced to chef de cuisine before the restaurant’s closure. Turning her attention to baking and skillful pastry making, she quickly became a pastry chef for award-winning chef, Janos Wilder.

Vida / Celebrating Women

The real cherry on top of her sweet story is that she will be serving a specialized dessert at Vida for you to experience yourself. Give her Salted Honey and Goat Cheese Mousse with almond lavender cake a try — you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Mary Steiger and Susan Fulton of Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery & Bistro

Mary Steiger from Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/Bistro (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Mary Steiger from Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/Bistro (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Since first grade, Mary Steiger has known what she wanted to do when she grew up: bake.

Her passion and determination to excel landed her first in class at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. She then worked for a handful of bakeries as a pastry chef.

It was in a business group that Steiger met Susan Fulton. The two connected, started a catering company together, and were met with a customer request for a gluten-free cake.

Steiger and Fulton rose to the challenge, created the cake, and have since adopted the gluten-free lifestyle embodied by their business, Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery & Bistro.

Vida / Celebrating Women

Taste their handiwork at Vida with Lemon Thyme-marinated Wild-caught Shrimp in an Asiago cheese black-pepper waffle cone with organic crisped kale, Champagne-infused papaya, and a pomegranate balsamic reduction.

Dominique Stoller of HUB Ice Cream Factory

Dominique Stoller, executive pastry chef and general manager at HUB Ice Cream Factory, events and catering chef at Playground Bar & Lounge (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Dominique Stoller, executive pastry chef and general manager at HUB Ice Cream Factory, events and catering chef at Playground Bar & Lounge (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Disaster-turned-opportunity kickstarted Dominique Stoller‘s culinary career.

When a line cook at Tavolino Ristorante Italiano passed out, Stoller (working a front-of-house position) jumped to the rescue. From taking over a few kitchen shifts a week to assisting with the opening of Contigo Latin Kitchen in 2010 (working as the executive chef), Stoller has carved a way for herself in Tucson’s food industry.

Stoller has since run a catering company called Doma’s Delights and is now the executive pastry chef and general manager at HUB Ice Cream Factory as well as the event and catering chef for Playground Bar & Lounge.

Vida / Celebrating Women

At Vida, Stoller has two treats to tempt you with: Prickly Pear Jamaica pops dipped in chamoy and Tajin and Mini Arizona Blue Corn Choco Tacos filled with Arizona blue corn and honeycomb ice cream, dipped in white chocolate and rolled in crushed honeycomb candy.

Nikki Thompson of Nook

Nook's Matt & Nikki Thompson (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Nook’s Matt & Nikki Thompson (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Nikki Thompson‘s love for flavorful cuisine was inspired by her upbringing — witnessing fresh tortillas being made before her eyes right here in the Old Pueblo.

This love escalated when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona, and was complete when she and her husband, Matt, envisioned their future in the restaurant industry as chefs.

Nikki and Matt took the leap when they quit their jobs to open the catering company, 2 Hearts 1 Kitchen. They have also owned and operated two cafés but their focus and attention fall on downtown restaurant, Nook, which has been running for 3.5 years.

At Nook, a restaurant showcasing new American cuisine with international flair, Nikki and Matt make use of ingredients that are “locally sourced” to create dishes that are “crafted with love.”

Vida / Celebrating Women

Wanting to dip into something fresh this weekend? Try Nikki’s dish Tucson meets Hawaiian-style Fresh Ahi Poke Shooter served with a Tajin lotus crisp at Vida.

Tickets still available for purchase

With just 200 tickets to the Vida / Celebrating Women Festival available for purchase, get yours while you can. Tickets are $25 per person, which includes food and drink tastings and access to local wares.

All profits donated

All profits generated from ticket sales will be donated to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona for programs that train and support women in the culinary arts, such as Caridad Community Kitchen and their Microloan Program in partnership with Community Investment Corporation (CIC).

Find out more

To find out more, view our event article First Annual “Vida / Celebrating Women” Festival Empowers, Uplifts & Supports Women in Tucson.

The Historic Train Depot is located at 400 E. Toole Ave. More information is available at the Vida / Celebrating Women Event’s Page on Facebook. To purchase tickets, visit eventbrite.com.

Kate hails from South Africa. Yes, you read correctly. After wrestling lions and riding elephant-back, she finds herself in the desert. Feel free to charm her with mimosas anytime.