(Photo by Klaus Nielsen)

Tucson City of Gastronomy announces its ‘Food Heroes Awards’ recipients

May 3, 2023
By Tucson Foodie

The nonprofit Tucson City of Gastronomy (TCoG) is pleased to announce the first two recipients of their Food Heroes Awards — Feng-Feng Yeh has been selected as the 2023 Si Charro! Food Visionary and Josefina Lizárraga is the 2023 Jim Griffith Foodways Keeper.

The Food Visionary Award recognizes a Southern Arizona artist working in the visual, performing, film, media, or written word fields who is creatively reimagining new relationships with food, in any of its dimensions. This award is funded by Si Charro! Concepts.

The Foodways Keeper Award recognizes a Southern Arizona home cook and food artisan helping to keep our food traditions alive through the continued use of heritage ingredients and techniques unique to this region. This award is in honor of anthropologist and folklorist Jim Griffith (1935-2021) and his longtime support for home cooks who have furthered the food heritage and culinary traditions of the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands. The Southwest Folklife Alliance is partnering with TCoG to support this award, and it is funded by the University of Arizona Southwest Center.

Each award winner will receive a $1,500 cash prize and the awards will be presented at the free Community Maíz Fiesta at Kennedy Park on Saturday, May 6.

Feng-Feng Yeh

Feng-Feng Yeh is being recognized for developing the new annual Chinese Chorizo Project, which remembers and celebrates an early form of food fusion in Tucson — a unique and extra-spicy version of chorizo sausage made in many of the more than 100 Chinese markets throughout Barrio Viejo during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when that multicultural neighborhood was thriving. She is currently raising funds for a chorizo sculpture near the barrio.

Feng-Feng Yeh

The nomination form described how her revival of the almost forgotten story of Tucson’s Chinese chorizo is so remarkable: “The historic barrio she describes as she weaves her tale was a place of mutual cooperation and respect between two outsider cultures. Feng Feng is not just an exceptional chef and artist, but she weaves meaning into food in a way that raises our spirits and expectations of ourselves. …she is that rare spirit — a visionary filled with genuine warmth, chutzpah, a talent for inspiring the imagination, and inclusive in her art and culinary practice.”

The Chinese Chorizo Project is now preparing for the second annual edition of this month-long celebration.

Josefina Lizárraga

Josefina Lizárraga is a self-taught ethnobotanist and cultural cook, in addition to being a folk artisan of paper flowers. She is a cultural activist and long-time cook using heritage ingredients from the Tucson area and Sonora. She also generously shares her knowledge about how to grow and cook with heritage fruit trees and garden herbs and vegetables, including many of the plants growing in the Mission Garden.

Josefina Lazarraga / Mission Garden

The nomination form describes that “A visit to Josefina’s home will take the visitor through a journey of botanical knowledge authentic to our desert lands – from verdolagas to oregano and ‘flor de calabaza,’ which she will deftly turn into delicious dishes you cannot refuse. Even the humble quesadilla in Josefina’s hands transforms into a work of art.”

She has owned restaurants and a beloved west-side flower shop, revived the Día de San Juan Fiesta which traditionally welcomed the monsoon rains, and shared her knowledge and plantings of many varieties of heritage fruit trees and other traditional plants growing in her extensive home garden on Tucson’s west side.

The non-profit Tucson City of Gastronomy was formed in 2016 to manage the 2015 UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy designation for metro Tucson and Southern Arizona. It works with stakeholders in the local food system and food economy to leverage the designation to increase appreciation of our food heritage, culinary assets, food system innovations, promote them on a global scale, and link them to heritage foodways preservation, culinary tourism, and economic development.

Learn more about Tucson City of Gastronomy at tucson.cityofgastronomy.org. Get tickets and RSVP at pueblosdelmaiz.com.

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