We Ask Chefs: what is your favorite chili pepper?

It's getting hot in here.

“We Ask Chefs” is a regular feature in which we ask local Tucson chefs a range of questions about chef life and food. Read their responses to the latest: “what is your favorite chili pepper?”

Dee Buizer

Senae Thai Bistro
Dee Buizer, chef and owner of Senae Thai Bistro (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Dee Buizer, chef and owner of Senae Thai Bistro (Credit: Jackie Tran)

“The bird’s eye chili (rated at over 50,000 – 100,000 Scoville units) is found in most Thai dishes, including those served at Senae Thai Bistro in downtown Tucson. While Thai cuisine conjures images of super spicy fare, virtually all dishes can be served mild to completely without spice.

Exceptions are Northeastern dishes that include lemongrass and lime juice, such as Laab Gai (minced chicken), Nueh Nam Thock (grilled beef salad), and the very popular Thom Yum (soup with shrimp, chicken or tofu) from central Thailand. This [is] because they won’t have the intended flavors without the chili added, since it balances the citrusy flavor from the critical ingredients, lemongrass and lime juice.”

View our October 2017 Nine on the Line with Dee Buizer.

Ivor Cryderman

Diablo Burger • Good Oak Bar
Chef Ivor Cryderman at Diablo Burger Tucson (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chef Ivor Cryderman at Diablo Burger Tucson (Credit: Jackie Tran)

“I love the fruitiness of the Scotch bonnet. Its use in Caribbean and soul food to bring heat along with a sweet ripe flavor is something I have always really enjoyed.

Lately, I have been getting into Thai chili, using them in all kinds of ways like tossed with watermelon in a salad or pickled and tossed in some fried rice.”

View our October 2018 Nine on the Line with Ivor Cryderman.

Michael Elefante

Mama Louisa’s
Executive Chef Michael Elefante at Mama Louisa's (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Executive Chef Michael Elefante at Mama Louisa’s (Credit: Jackie Tran)

“My favorite would be a tie.

We mix the amazing Hatch green chili with our Alfredo sauce. It’s heavenly.

Also, the hot Calabrian chili. Which is great for pickling or marinating. We use that as the base for our hot wing sauce.”

View our November 2016 Tools They Use with Michael Elefante.

Aidan Gould

Blue Sky Cafe at Sky Islands Public High School
Chef Aidan Gould searing duck breast at Blue Sky Cafe at Sky Islands Public High School (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chef Aidan Gould searing duck breast at Blue Sky Cafe at Sky Islands Public High School (Credit: Jackie Tran)

“Alright, I’m gonna do a top three because I can’t decide.

My number one is bird’s eye chili a.k.a. Thai chili. I think they have a great flavor profile and can be made into a great pasta. It seems like every fifth one is really, really hot.

My number two is shishito peppers super, super versatile and great flavor. Blister that skin and get them crispy and you’re set.

Finally, my number three is chipotle pepper. They’re good in basically everything and you can find them anywhere. Great in a marinade, great in an aioli, great for an extra kick in your dessert.”

View our April 2019 Nine on the Line with Aidan Gould.

Travis Peters

The Parish

(Photo courtesy of the Parish)

“Oh man, I love so many different chili peppers. The world owes its chili obsession gratitude to our beloved chiltepin, which is just another reason why Tucson freaking rocks so hard.

Obviously, growing up here introduced my palate to many varieties that were both fresh and dried. I’ve quite literally been eating them my entire life. I can’t even count how many ways I’ve used chilies in my cooking over the years, but most recently I’ve enjoyed making tons of different hot sauces here at the Parish by using various chili combinations. Each chili pepper is so unique in its flavor profiles that it’s virtually limitless what you can do, trust me, I’ve been experimenting with it for years now, both fresh and fermented.

Watermelon Fresno has been on our menu for almost four years; ghost chili with sour apple and rhubarb is awesome; four-month habanero and blueberry hot sauce is for sale as we speak, and it just helped me win the California Giant berry top chef cook-off! Aside from hot sauces, the chili I most often turn to is the humble cayenne chili pepper because of its moderate heat that wakes your mouth up just enough without setting it on fire. Its burn lasts just enough to keep it interesting.

Honestly, I love all chili peppers aside from one. It is a horrible excuse for a chili pepper. It has no flavor, it always makes me sick to my stomach, and has no place in this world for anyone with any real taste. With all my heart, I HATE the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”

David Solorzano


Penca executive chef David Solorzano (Credit: Jackie Tran)

“Favorite chili will probably have to be Chilhuacle.

Chilhuacle is one of the rarest chiles in Mexico. There are 3 varieties: Negro, Rojo, and Amarillo. We use the beautiful orange-yellow chile at the restaurant to make mole amarillito; it has a medium heat and is full of flavor. Chilhuacle amarillo is usually reserved for special occasions.

The rojo, like the rest of chilhuacles, comes from Mexico’s Cañada Valley in Oaxaca. This chile is medium-hot to taste and deep red in color, perfect for red moles and has hints of dry cherries and anise. Not traditional, but this chile also makes an amazing paprika once ground.

The negro variety has strong notes of cocoa, tobacco and dry fruit. Moderately hot, this chile is the cornerstone of authentic Oaxacan mole negro.

The Cañada valley in Oaxaca is a designated UNESCO ecological zone. Chilhuacle means ‘ancient chile’ in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people spoken throughout the region a half-century ago.

All chilhuacles are ancient chiles that are slowly falling out of favor and are slowly disappearing due to their high production costs. We have to go to the source and get them first hand (which is coming up in a few weeks) in order to offer [them] to our guests.”

Read our July 2017 Nine on the Line with David Solorzano.

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He loves corgis and still thinks rickrolling is funny. If you'd like to stalk him, visit jackietran.com and his Instagram @jackie_tran_.