Chef Obadiah (Obie) Hindman has gone off the grid — at least as far as most of Tucson’s restaurant-goers are concerned. Since 2003, he has been showcasing his considerable culinary skills at the members-only Mountain Oyster Club. As Travis Peters, Executive Chef at The Delta and The Parish, put it in an earlier interview, "He makes some of the most amazing food I’ve ever seen and he is one of the most underrated chefs in the city since [the club] isn’t open to the public. His passion and knowledge are infectious."
But there’s good news for those who want to experience Hindman’s talents. He will be among the chefs wowing attendees of the upcoming series of Gastronomic Union of Tucson (GUT) dinners, all to be held at his bailiwick, the Mountain Oyster Club.
Long-time Tucsonans might have experienced his cooking at one of several beloved bygone kitchens. Hindman held sway at downtown’s Cafe Magritte for nine years, worked briefly at the Manning House, and for the Metro Group, did stints at Firecracker, McMahon’s Steakhouse, and The Tack Room.
He also had earlier, less prestigious, cooking gigs. As he put it on his GUT profile: "I started my illustrious career in the dish pit at the 6th Street Pub & Grill at the tender age of 14 in order to save up enough money to buy a microphone, with the sincere intention of being a rock star."
Which brings us to the fact that some people who have been in town since the 1990s might have known Hindman in another context: as a member of the punk rock band Feast Upon Cactus Thorns, where he performed as Obie Sirius (also spelled Obie Serious). The band may be long gone, but Hindman still uses the name on Facebook and as his Instagram handle for the self-described "Old Punk Chef in Tucson."
It was on the alternative music scene that he met some of the chefs who are now fellow members of GUT, including Travis Peters, Gary Hickey of the Si Charro! group, and Rocco di Grazia of Rocco’s Little Chicago. Hindman notes that none of them took the conventional culinary school route to restaurant success.
He said, "Washing dishes is a standard punk rocker’s job. As long as you show up and don’t slack off it doesn’t matter where you come from, Mars or prison. A lot of musicians came up that way; some of them just ended up working their way up in the kitchen."
When asked which other punk bands his restaurant cohort belonged to or followed, Hindman laughs. "It was a crazy time. I can’t remember them all." Which is the correct answer. It’s like the 1960s. If you can remember them, you weren’t there.
The proto-chefs kept in touch with each other over the years, finding cooking to be as exciting as rock ‘n’ roll — and not a mutually exclusive pursuit.
Hindman explains the culinary arts in musical terms. "Rudimentary punk rock is like ‘Yeah, let’s cook some eggs, throw some hot sauce on it, it’s fine.'" He adds, "But once you get into songwriting, you can talk about constructing a dish, how it needs certain components, or maybe it has too many parts. Maybe it’s got a little too much foie gras, not enough rock and roll."
Expanding on the metaphor, he says: "You can match up different styles of food with different styles of music. I’ve always liked jam sessions, seeing what happens, maybe having some beers, and just making music for hours on end. Cooking is a lot more structured, but there’s still plenty of improvisation. There’s always something you’re going to have to fix on the fly. You’re going to have to construct a culinary narrative in real-time that you weren’t anticipating when you’re doing a dinner."
As with jam sessions, collaboration is key.
It was Hindman’s interest in sharing information that eventually led to the formation of GUT. He said, "I met a guy who was creating Arizona beer-fed beef, I don’t recall who and he may not be around anymore. He was going to all the breweries and getting leftover beer and spent grain and was finishing cattle with it. I wanted to get the word out because the beef was really good and he was a really nice guy." To that end, he created a Facebook group called Tucson Chefs, which eventually led to an in-person meeting of several group members at Ermanos Bar.
The rest, as they say, is history; for details, see the September 2019 article "Culinary Camaraderie in Local Chef’s Gastronomic Union of Tucson (GUT) Group."
The cinema-themed "GUT Goes to the Movies," to take place on Sunday, July 17, is sold out — "It’s been three years since we had the last one, everyone is very excited" — but Hindman is not going to be cooking at the event in any case. Because he is the one most familiar with the venue and it’s the first time a GUT dinner is being held at the Mountain Oyster Club, he is overseeing the proceedings, familiarizing the chefs with the facility, and making sure everyone has what they need.
Expect to find him actively participating in future GUT dinners, though he’s not sure yet which one and in what capacity. "I’m interested in being a captain on ‘Lost Restaurants of Tucson’ (Sunday, August 21)," he said, "Maybe choosing to re-create a meal from Cafe Magritte where I worked before, or from Greasy Tony’s." But, he notes, he’d also like to participate in “Right Here Right Now — Hyperlocal and Seasonal” (Sunday, September 18) — a natural outgrowth of his quest to use the best available ingredients on his menus year-round.
He knows that he will have to choose one or the other. "I don’t want to hog things," he said.
There is one obvious question that we had to ask, given the locus for all the events: Will he try to incorporate mountain oysters — breaded and fried bull testicles — into any of the dinners?
Hindman laughs. "The GUT dinners are such a completely different frame of mind for me, I don’t even think of the venue. I try to focus on the theme of the dinner. But I can almost guarantee someone is going to ask about that. I might have to work mountain oysters into one of these dinners. They are delicious."
For details on the three upcoming GUT dinners, the finale being “Culinary Legends of Tucson,” check out our July 2022 article. And Chef Obie has done guest chef wine dinners outside the Mountain Oyster Club, as well as Guido-Q BBQ events at Mama Louisa’s. Watch this space for future appearances of the chef in the wild.
Edie Jarolim has worn many hats, including a sombrero on a one-too-many-margaritas night. She earned a Ph.D. in American literature...