(Photo courtesy of Chef Carlos Anthony on Instagram)

Chef Carlos Anthony: A Tucson native making it big in the culinary world

April 18, 2023
By Mark Whittaker
By Mark Whittaker

We’re all very aware that Tucson is getting a lot of attention. Just recently, a national magazine named Tucson as one of the top places to visit in 2023  Not just in Arizona, not the U.S., but the world. Tack on some celebrity residents, six months of weather that is envied, and a culinary scene that rivals any big-time whoop-de-do metropolitan fancy pants city.

Now, about that culinary scene — something we all hold dear and take a lot of pride in. Tucson is the first city in the U.S. designated for its gastronomy, has multiple James Beard award winners (numerous other nominees), and a slew of local chefs that have made it onto competitive cooking shows. 

One such chef who was born and raised in Tucson, cut his culinary teeth in California, and is now finding fame in the televised food fight arena is Carlos Anthony

(Photo courtesy of Chef Carlos Anthony on Instagram)

If you tuned into “Cutthroat Kitchen” in February 2015, you would have seen Anthony competing on the show hosted by Alton Brown. He and three other chefs had to endure pretty challenging challenges, such as making gnocchi while wearing a potato masher on their hands. Anthony came out on top, barely in his 20s, and was invited to return for a subsequent episode. 

That was a big moment for Tucson and in a certain friend circle, it was huge. 

15 years ago, when Anthony was a senior at Salpointe Catholic High School, my wife and I worked with him at a once popular chain restaurant on Campbell Avenue. Anthony started out as a host but wanted to move into the kitchen because of his passion for cooking. This kid would take corporate pre-packaged food, remove the breading or whatever nonsense, add some seasoning, quickly sauté, put it on a pizza, and the result was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had — unbelievable. 

(Photo courtesy of Chef Carlos Anthony on Instagram)

After he graduated from Salpointe, we all expected him to go to culinary school. Nope. Anthony enrolled in business management at the University of Arizona but that, mercifully, did not last long. 

An opportunity to work in a prominent restaurant in California arose and in Anthony’s own words he “just ran.”

From there, Anthony quickly rose to the acclaim of executive chef, overseeing two concepts, a sausage-centered restaurant in San Diego and a taco venture in Ventura. Being so young and so ambitious, the commute between the two restaurants was a chore but Anthony was up to the challenge. 

For a while, that is. 

The constant back and forth was beginning to take its toll and after a year of having literally no days off, working long hours, and driving lengthy stretches, Anthony was beginning to get his feelers out for a new opportunity. 

Once again, the culinary fates stepped in and he embarked on an incredible journey. 

If you are a fan of “Top Chefor watch any food-related shows, especially if there is a battle to be had, then you’re likely familiar with Brian Malarky. Malarky made a splash on “Top Chefseason 3, was a finalist on “Top Chef All-Stars, and opened numerous successful restaurants in California. In 2015, Malarky took Anthony under his chef-coated wing and appointed him chef de cuisine for Seersucker, a high-end yet comfortable concept serving a variety of plates ranging from precisely portioned seafood to big burgers you’d expect from a truck stop. It was during this time that Anthony found his true calling and his voice as a chef. 

(Photo courtesy of Chef Carlos Anthony on Instagram)

That’s when “Cutthroat Kitchen” came calling. 

“After being with Brian Malarkey for so many years you just naturally fall in love with that kind of thing,” said Anthony, referring to his television appearances. “It was so exciting. It was such a thrill, a rush, and I fell in love with competing — not only competing but being in front of the camera and having that kind of spotlight on you. And, I think it takes a rare person to be able to do that. There’s a lot of great chefs out there but not all of them can put that performance on TV. So, I fell in love with it quickly but it took me a few years to get back onto TV.”

After appearing on “Chopped Next Gen” and before Seersucker shut down for good in 2020, Malarky opened up a new restaurant, Herb & Wood, and brought Anthony in as executive chef. Having been lucky enough to have eaten at Herb & Wood, we were not surprised to see that the kid who made amazing pizzas out of corporate nothings was now accomplishing big things. Fresh seafood caught just a few blocks away, venison, bone marrow, and local seasonal produce were all being done in a “California cuisine meets the Mediterranean” fashion. 

Dishes at Herb & Wood in California (Photo courtesy of Chef Carlos Anthony on Instagram)

And, yes, there is pizza on the menu, too.  

Anthony is the youthful calm to Malarky’s Gen X exuberance. With boyish good looks, a big smile, and the skills to chop, cut, slice, and pay the bills, it’s no wonder why Anthony is a natural in front of the camera. 

It didn’t take long, as Anthony mentioned before, to get back into some televised cooking contention. This time, it would be in an arena far more intimidating than having to wear potato peelers as gloves while cooking. 

“Tournament of Champions” is an elimination breakdown hosted by Guy Fieri and features some of the most famous and renowned chefs in the world. One of the insane challenges includes incorporating mung beans and fudge into one dish while needing to use a juicer and making it in the style of an elegant West African appetizer. You get the idea.

(Photo courtesy of Chef Carlos Anthony on Instagram)

Anthony was paired against internationally regarded chef, cookbook author, and Food Network royalty, Jet Tila. Funny thing is, Anthony only lost by mere point fractions which secured him into the family of famous televised food fighters. 

As we all know, Maria Mazon of BOCA made it pretty far on “Top Chef” and while filming the “restaurant wars” episode, she met up with Anthony, and thus a delicious idea was hatched. Both being from Tucson and with Sonoran roots, Mazon and Anthony thought it would be something very special to collaborate on a dinner and present it right here in their home territory. 

“When they were filming Maria’s episode, we met all of the chefs and had the time of our lives,” said Anthony. “I got to really know Maria and obviously talk to her about being from Tucson, which is my hometown, and being Hispanic, specifically from Sonora. So, that was something we really bonded over. Then we were kind of like, ‘Hey, we’d really love to do a dinner.’ It was as easy as that.”

On Saturday, April 22, that dinner will finally come to fruition. 

Aptly titled “Taste of Sonora,” the two chefs will present a five-course meal featuring dishes from one another’s family and heritage. Anthony was a little secretive when it came to actually revealing what the two are up to. Although he did mention his grandmother’s mole and then Mazon doing something amazing with nopales. 

(Photo courtesy of chef Maria Mazon)

Tickets are $150 a person and you can purchase them online via Eventbrite (there are only a few tickets left).  

“The biggest thing for me is that it’s a homecoming,” said Anthony. “I grew up in Tucson, I am Tucson through and through. I love Tucson and I rarely have the opportunity to get back home. This dinner is that opportunity and Maria made it all happen. I mean, I was so inspired by the fact that Maria owns a restaurant in Tucson, and both of us are able to represent our city in not just our food but on TV as well. I really wanted to come back home, show my support for Maria, her restaurant, but also for our city and show Tucson kind of what I got and what I have become after all of these years.” 

By the way, Carlos Anthony just got engaged so cheers to that.

Keep up with chef Carlos Anthony by following him on Instagram. To purchase a ticket to the “Taste of Sonora” dinner, visit eventbrite.com.

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Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...

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