Janos Wilder & team delivered 1,400 meals to TMC employees

The healthcare workers received Chicken Culichi and Thai Curried Vegetables with Rice

James Beard award-winning chef Janos Wilder and his team donated a whopping bundle of 1,400 meals to Tucson Medical Center employees on Wednesday.

An anonymous donor approached Wilder with the plan and TMC matched the donor’s gift for their employee appreciation week, Wilder said.

Of course, the meals weren’t boring boxes of steamed chicken and brown rice. Employees had the option between Chicken Culichi Casserole and Thai Curried Vegetables with Rice.

“We really wanted to prepare some special food for the TMC team,” Wilder said. “The Culichi Casserole is inspired by the flavors of Culiacán, Mexico: dark meat chicken, poblano chiles, chipotles in adobo, caramelized onions in rich cheesy cream sauce served on rice. It’s from a recipe I created for my Chiles Rellenos cookbook. The Thai Green Coconut Milk Curry is redolent of green curry, fresh mint, basil, and lemongrass with carrots, onions, eggplant, scallion in coconut milk — lots of subtle herbaceous flavor with enough heat to open the tastebuds.”

The 80-hour meal prep session was easily one of the largest Wilder has done; a comparable previous event was a dinner for about 400 people, though it featured about 20 different items.

“We loved doing these meals for TMC,” Wilder said. “What a great cause. My team, headed by Devon Sanner and Tanner Fleming, took the challenge in stride. It was a blast to do and was really seamless. Big thanks to Merit Food for providing a refrigerated truck for delivery and Jesus; best driver you could ask for.”

Although Wilder’s restaurant DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails has not reopened yet, Wilder spent the past several weeks brainstorming changes for the restaurant. For example, the parking lot may be converted into additional spaced patio seating, with shade courtesy of the towering Tucson Electric Power building to the west.

The extra space will be perfect for the hospital workers to enjoy a drink. In addition to the free meals, the restaurant also gave cards good for a free drink.

“[…] we look forward to seeing a lot of these folks and get a chance to thank them in person for the work they do for all of us,” Wilder said.

For the Culichi recipe, buy Wilder’s book The Great Chiles Rellenos Book.

For more information on Janos Wilder, read our September 2019 article Guided through food: Tucson restaurateur Janos Wilder talks 40 years of global-inspired localism.

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_.