Now I’m not exactly too sure how Ador Cuisine came into my life but let me tell you, it turned out to be one very happy happenstance.
Could have been from a friend, possibly my editor, or just cruising through the Tucson food social media networks. When I heard about a catering service providing high-end, multi-course meals from a chef that oftentimes does so in full drag, I knew that I had to be a part of this.
Being raised by a gay man, spending most of my life working off and on in theatre, and living in San Francisco for 12 years, drag culture is extremely important to me. The new season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” premieres and we’ve got our phones off and the bets are on. Heck, I even got a little emotional when I ran into Tucson’s own Tempest DuJour that one time on Fourth Avenue. Drag encompasses everything I love about being human and I salute those who can wear 10-inch cha-cha heels night after glitter-soaked night.
My other obsession, obviously, is food. Combine those two together and my fandom reaches a strange stratospheric level.
So, when I hit “send” to email Ador Cuisine asking if I could write about them, my pulse raced a bit. Am I worthy to be in the presence of this kind of amazingness? But when a very cordial reply came from a man named Adrian Ortega saying they would love to be featured I relaxed knowing I had a job to do by letting everyone in on what is set to be something rather unique and special.
Ortega invited me to his home in Oro Valley as a guest to one of his “culinary experiences” — something he provides for clients if they wish. Although, he can work remotely, too.
When we arrived, I was surprised at how tall Ortega is, especially in his chef’s toque. This night was not a night for drag, which was perfectly fine because I was really looking forward to the food, knowing we will get the full Ador experience in the future.
As Ortega began prepping for the first course with help from partner Raymond Felicisimo, he informed me that he grew up in Douglas, Arizona, and began cooking at a very young age with help from his mom.
As they cooked together, his mother told him stories about his grandmother, who unfortunately he never had the chance to meet, and was apparently a phenomenal chef. Hearing tales of his abuela and her expertise in the kitchen lit a slow burn in Ortega and, through the years of cooking with his mother, he knew that he had found and accepted his culinary calling.
The relocation to Tucson was gradual as he’d make the over two-hour trek to shop and hang here on a fairly regular basis — especially around the holidays. Ortega felt a definite kinship to our fair city and after a stint in Iowa City, he knew that Tucson was going to be his forever home. Although, he made the best of his years in Douglas, especially being an up-and-coming chef.
Beginning in middle school and until he graduated high school, Ortega made and sold desserts, with flan being his signature dish, to friends, neighbors, and schoolmates. After receiving his degree in culinary arts from Cochise College, he made the big move to Tucson and we’ve been fortunate to have him ever since.
The notion to start Ador Cuisine, as he likes to describe it as ”a unique, world-class dining experience, using local food products and honoring both local and international food traditions in a way that nourishes,” began, ironically enough at the tail end of 2019. The pandemic did halt some ambitions but Ortega took that time to hone his vision and intentions as a chef.
In early 2022, Ador Cuisine officially began taking off and is still gaining a lot of momentum due to his farm-to-table approach to food that is well rooted in his Mexican heritage.
Ortega has also started a street food service, Las Nachas, which ranges from serving delicious nachos to teaching cooking classes.
Now, this is where the drag comes in.
Normally, for most catering events, Ortega arrives in crisp starch whites and his toque. His drag persona, which he has been doing now for over seven years, arrives during classes and special occasions.
He, as well as most queens I know have said, explained that drag is a lifesaver. Being a quiet kid from Douglas, that form of expression releases someone deep inside that does not want to be quiet; a celebration of his divine femininity and masculinity as he likes to explain.
So, with Ador Cuisine, we receive the full package – delicious dishes from fresh locally sourced ingredients done in an inventive way with a twist of absolute realness.
Getting to know Ortega made me extremely excited for the evening. What follows is what we got to experience that night, providing a glimpse of what you’d be honored to be a part of.
The setting was warm, comfortable, and beautiful. Ambient lighting along with a table set up with friends made the introduction lovely and welcoming.
Bowls of something called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Corn Chowder” were brought out and after taking a bite, I had to agree. Swirled with golden beets, cashew cream, cilantro, smoked paprika, torched poblanos, and finished with sweet peppers and microgreens, it had the flavor and texture of corn chowder which had me puzzle my puzzler while eating. So creamy with a good crunch and, yeah, it tasted like corn chowder.
But it wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it.
Next, a sashimi trio. On our left was yellowtail with mandarin, cinnamon, adobo, and cashews. Center stage displayed ahi tuna, nopal, blueberries, poblanos, and yerba mate. The right wore salmon, beets, coconut, cumin, mustard seeds, and basil.
Paired with a non-alcoholic hibiscus, citrus, and rose beverage, I was convinced I was drunk. The care and quality of it all totally made me heady.
Scarpinocc is an unusual pasta as it is likened to the shape of a shoe. Ortega complemented his version with seasoned pork, Indigo Goddess salsa, cream of cashew, and chiles to name a few tightly bouncing in that bowl. Chewy yet unctuous from the pork aspect.
If you omitted the protein element, this dish would enthusiastically head toward vegan horizons.
At this point, I was quite full — we all were. But we had to press on. This was an “experience” to savor and we couldn’t throw in the napkin so soon.
The featured dish was titled Metamorphosis, aptly done so for so many reasons.
Mainly because the herbed shrimp, spirit cabbage, spiralized butternut squash, and Sonoran wheat beans were delicious on their own, but when you drizzled his gaia water Moscato reduction over the entrée, the flavor literally transformed from a savory standpoint to a more sacchariferous disposition. That’s the best way I can describe it without you actually having to try it. Unreal.
Packed in, but far from finished, we were delighted with a quesito brûlée (queso fresco with caramelized sugar, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and mint) and blue corn tres leches cajeta flan with roasted pears, tarragon, and pecan meringue.
As a fan of desserts that steer clear of the cloying sweetness, these two cleansed and finished the palate in ways that have to be experienced to be understood.
Ador Cuisine can perform under any dietary preference and restrictions, even offering “infused” dinners, which is funny because the flavors, presentation, and overall adventure of it should make you high enough.
As I left, Ortega and I hugged because that was all I could muster at the moment.
The ride home was quiet as we floated back to the homestead, very full, very happy, and best of all, joyous in the knowing that Ador Cuisine is here for us all, celebrating delicious diversity for cultures spanning the family heritage.
Because as RuPaul always says: “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”
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