Tucson Festival of Books 2023: What’s cooking on the Culinary Stage

February 22, 2023
By Edie Jarolim

One of the biggest draws at the Tucson Festival of Books (March 4-5), the Culinary Stage is a magnet for home cooks at all levels. There are no bad seats in the house (well, tent): A large tilted mirror poised over the raised platform ensures up-close-and-personal views of the chefs’ hands as they perform their slicing, dicing, and sauteing magic.

Culinary Stage at Tucson Festival of Books 2019 (Photo by James S. Wood)

Samples of the finished dishes were nixed post-pandemic, but lively Q & As during the sessions — not to mention book signings afterwards — give attendees a chance to schmooze with the featured cookbook authors.  

As Jennifer Slothower, Culinary Chair of the Books & Authors Committee, said, “It’s a rare opportunity to see some of the top culinary talent in the US in live cooking demonstrations. Most of these chefs don’t usually do things like this. Tucson is very lucky that we have so much support from the festival for a culinary stage.” 

That support includes buying all the ingredients for the dishes showcased on stage.

Culinary Stage at Tucson Festival of Books 2019 (Photo by James S. Wood)

Support from the larger Tucson community is also essential to the Culinary Stage’s success. Slothower noted, “Pima Community College culinary arts program staff and students do all of the dirty work related to the stage. They do all of the cleanup, washing dishes by hand in buckets of water, hauling in all of the cooking equipment, and all of the prep / setup / teardown.” This year, they are also assisting in demonstrations on stage.

The aforementioned cooking equipment — state-of-the-art luxury brands like Subzero and Wolf — comes courtesy of Arizona Appliance and Home. Jessica Abrego, the company’s Director of Sales and Marketing, said, “This is the fifth year we have provided the equipment for this amazing culinary event. We are thrilled to be asked year after year to support it and to allow the chefs and authors to display their talents.”

Photo courtesy of Tucson Festival of Books

This year’s group of authors is wonderfully diverse, with cookbooks celebrating everything from Southern Arizona’s heritage grains and Day of the Dead offerings to recipes from Ukraine and China. They are listed here in order of their appearances on the Culinary Stage. Click on each author’s name in the grid link to learn more about them and their cookbooks.

Culinary Stage Schedule

Maren Ellinboe King, Fresh Midwest

SATURDAY, MARCH 4 at 10 a.m.

A native of Minnesota, Maren Ellinboe King disproves the outmoded notion that midwestern food is all meat and potatoes and lutefisk. This recipe developer, food stylist, and former editor at Food & Wine brings a contemporary — shall we say fresh? — sensibility to an underrated regional American cuisine, including updated versions of such standards as Minnesota hot dish.

She will be preparing: 

  • Corn Salad with Dill & Goat Cheese
  • Gjetost Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Emma Zimmerman, The Miller’s Daughter

SATURDAY, MARCH 4 at 11:30 a.m.

Desert dwellers, take note: As the co-founder with her father of Hayden Flour Mills in Phoenix, Emma Zimmerman was one of the earliest practitioners of preserving–and stone milling–Arizona’s heritage grains. In her first cookbook, the author offers expert advice on how to cook with local nutrient-rich grains in order to bring out their unique characteristics.

She will be preparing:

  • White Sonora Cauliflower Salad
  • Rainbow Einkorn Slaw
  • Pickled Cherry Farro Salad

Anna Voloshyna, Budmo! 

SATURDAY, MARCH 4 at 1 p.m.

Budmo! means “Cheers!” in Ukrainian, and if Anna Voloshyna’s native country is going through tough times, we can still toast Ukraine’s spirit and bravery – and celebrate its food. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area, the author offers a fresh spin on traditional Eastern European dishes (as you might expect from a California-based chef). 

She will be preparing:

  • Pan Fried Zucchini with Light Sour Cream, Herbs, and Crispy Shallot
  • Mom’s Spicy and Sour Tomatoes

Mariana Nuño Ruiz, Dining with the Dead

SUNDAY, March 5 at 10 a.m.

As many Southern Arizonans know, observers of Día de Los Muertos offer their departed loved ones special dishes to celebrate their lives on earth. Ruiz’s cookbook – beautifully illustrated by her husband, Ian McEnroe, a professional photographer – details the culture and traditions surrounding the Mexican Day of the Dead recipes featured.

She will be preparing:

  • Salsa de Molcajete:
    • Roasted Red Salsa with Arbol and Cascabel Chiles
    • Salsa Roja Asada con Chile de Árbol y Chile Cascabel
  • Frijoles de la Olla Pot Beans
  • Refried Beans

Hannah Che, The Vegan Chinese Kitchen

SUNDAY, March 5 at 11:30 a.m.

Born and raised in the US, Hannah Che studied at Guangzhou Vegetarian Culinary School, spending a year in China researching plant-based dishes. The result: Surong, Che’s monthly vegan pop-up restaurant in Portland, and her much-heralded new vegan cookbook. Che’s recipes are informed by Chinese tradition but highlight low-waste living and fresh seasonal produce.

She will be preparing:

  • Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (stuffing prepared ahead)
  • Fragrant Dressed Tofu with Garlic and Basil
  • Kung Pao Mushrooms

Tara Jensen, Flour Power

SUNDAY, March 5 at 1 p.m.

Tara Jensen’s recipes for baked goods have appeared in Food & Wine and Bon Appetit, but she is especially renowned for her bread-making workshops–and for the clarity of her cookbooks’ directions. She has helped all levels of cooks to make great bread, from dessert guru Claire Saffitz to wannabes who have previously used their loaves as doorstops.

She will be preparing a Lunch Box Loaf, demonstrating how to make sourdough bread from start to finish.

Maya-Camille Broussard, Justice of the Pies

SUNDAY, March 5 at 2:30 p.m.

One of the young stars of Netflix’s “Bake Squad,” Maya-Camille Broussard was a James Beard Foundation finalist for Outstanding Baker in 2022, thanks to her creative sweet-and-savory pies, quiches, and tarts. Her prominence gives the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, of which she is a proud member, a model for success.

She will be preparing:

  • Salted Caramel Peach Pie

For more information about the Culinary Stage, visit tucsonfestivalofbooks.org. To learn about books at the festival that are food-centric but not necessarily cooking-related, see Tucson Festival of Books: A Reading Feast.

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Article By

Edie Jarolim has worn many hats, including a sombrero on a one-too-many-margaritas night. She earned a Ph.D. in American literature from New York University and was a guidebook editor at Fodor’s (Random House) and Frommer’s (Simon & Schuster) in New...

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