By JACQUELYN SILVERMAN
Arizona Sonora News
When you think of a chef, who comes to mind? After following three different cooks around Tucson, I began to realize that although every chef has a unique approach to cooking, they all share a common bond: pride in knowing their way around a kitchen.
Starting as a high schooler working at a local pizza parlor, Chef Janos Wilder has spent most of his life in the kitchen.
It started as a way to earn money, but Janos quickly discovered his passion for cooking and has since become the first and only James Beard award winning chef in Tucson.
When Janos was 22, he had just graduated from UC Berkeley with plans to move on to graduate school. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I graduated, so I kept on cooking,” he said.
It wasn’t until Janos stepped into his first professional kitchen that he had an epiphany and began to realize it was more than just a job. He felt truly at home in the kitchen.
“The physical act of cooking I liked a lot,” he said. “I loved the cook stance, I loved the camaraderie of the kitchen, I loved sculpting food and coaxing flavor out of food. I loved all of that.”
Janos said he followed his heart to Tucson, where he settled down with his wife Rebecca and he opened Janos, which was named one the nation’s top regional restaurants by Playboy Magazine.
His original restaurant closed its doors in 2012, and he now focuses on his two latest projects: DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails and The Carriage House, a cooking school and event space with dim sum brunch offered on Sundays.
Through an ever-growing process of discovery and curiosity, Chef Wilder works to incorporate locally grown foods in his cuisine. “We began to realize that there was a really long agricultural heritage [in Tucson],” he said. “We started exploring the things that not only could grow here, but always had grown here.”
Tucson serves as the perfect muse for Chef Wilder’s craft. “I want to cook what’s going to make people happiest, and where they can most authentically feel me,” he said.
Joyce’s Leg of Lamb
“This was my favorite dish growing up. My mother used to make it for me for my birthday. Back in those days you could always get the butcher to cut off the shank from the leg and so that you could roast it separately. That was the best part. There was no meat on, just gristle and bone, but it had great flavor and I’d gnaw on it all through dinner much to my mother’s chagrin. The flavors of mustard, rosemary and garlic in the marinade marry well together.” -Janos Wilder
Yield: about 4-8 servings depending whose family is at the table
1 bone-in leg of lamb with the shank if possible
For the marinade:
3 tbsp. freshly crushed garlic
3 tbsp. whole grain mustard (whole grain is imported; French’s or Dijon will not do)
2 tbsp. fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
2 tbsp. flour
- Wipe the lamb dry.
- Combine the garlic, mustard and rosemary leaves, then whisk in the soy sauce and the flour to make a paste.
- Rub the paste all over the lamb.
- Drape the rosemary sprigs over the lamb.
- Bake at 375° oven for about 2 hours or to desired temperature.
- Let the lamb leg rest 5-10 minutes before serving.
Perdida Joy “PJ” Csoka is a University of Arizona celebrity, serving hot dogs for almost 4 years at a stand on campus. She is characterized by her oversized, feathered hat, which she calls her “superpower.”
“I’ve been here long enough that I’m seeing kids that were freshmen getting lost, and now graduating this year,” she said. “I’ve had a few come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember me when I was a geeky freshman? You’ve been with me the whole time!’”
PJ was born in Georgia but has spent most of her life moving around Arizona. She came to Tucson four years ago to work at the annual gem show, where she met her current boss, Janice. Janice offered PJ a job working a hot dog stand on campus, and she hasn’t missed a single day of work since.
“I like being here on campus,” she said. “I like seeing that there is hope for the future of this planet.”
PJ has been cooking her entire life. Her great-grandmother, two grandmothers, and mother all cooked and taught PJ their favorite recipes and techniques.
“No matter what, Nana’s food was always better,” she said, “You could use the same recipe, but Nana’s food always tasted better.”
Students tell PJ she makes the best hot dogs they’ve ever had. “It’s the love I put into it,” she said, “I season it with love. That’s all you need.”
She always envisioned herself having a job where she could take care of people.
“It’s not just that I get to cook and feed you and know that you’re fed,” she said. “But if you’re not passionate about something, it’s a drag!”
Mom’s Date Bread
“It’s very simple. You bake the date bread in the cans so it comes out a perfect, round loaf. That’s the way my mother always did it and it works fabulous. You don’t need a baking pan. Pour it in the can, shove it in the oven, empty the can and toss it. You don’t even have to wash the dishes!” -PJ Csoka
Yield: 5 loaves
5 empty vegetable/fruit cans
1 package chopped dates
½ cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 stick butter or margarine
1 tsp. baking soda
2½ cups flour
- Place dates, sugar and butter in bowl. Add boiling water. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Gradually stir in flour and baking soda.
- Grease and flour 5 empty cans. Fill each half full of batter and bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes.
- Test the loaves by sliding a knife into the center. A clean knife means it’s done.
Pedro Gonzvar has been bringing the flavors and aromas of Peru to Tucson since 2010.
Born in Lima, Pedro learned the ins and outs of Peruvian cuisine from his mother. “It started at a young age,” he said. “I used to watch my mom and I loved her food.”
He cooked his entire life, but it wasn’t until college that Pedro was exposed to different cuisines from around the world. “I had a Japanese roommate, a Middle Eastern roommate and a Chinese roommate,” he said.
The group would cook and introduce each other to different cooking styles and flavors, which ultimately sparked Pedro’s idea to bring Peruvian food to North America.
“We started in Rocky Point in 2004,” he said. “And later on in 2010, we decided to move here.”
He and his family opened Don Pedro’s Peruvian Bistro in South Tucson. After 5 years at that location, Pedro made the call to turn his restaurant into a food truck.
“The restaurant was not as demanding as the food truck,” he said. “You had all the equipment there and you could take your time in doing things. But it’s nice because you get to interact with people more. It makes it exciting.”
Pedro’s traditional Peruvian dishes are all made-to-order, including fresh seafood paella that he can whip up in about 3 minutes. He likes to think of it as Peruvian fast food.
Pedro’s goal is to move back to a permanent restaurant, but until then he will continue to bring the taste of Peru to the people of Tucson.
Chicha Morada (Peruvian Purple Corn Drink)
1 gallon water
1 package dried purple corn
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
1/2 apple chopped
1/2 cup sugar
- Boil water with purple corn, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, pineapple and apples for about 45 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and strain to remove all the corn and spices.
- Add sugar and squeeze 1/2 a lime.
- Refrigerate until cold.
Download high resolution images here.
Jacquelyn Silverman is studying journalism and communication and hopes to work in publicity for a film studio after college. She is from Scottsdale, AZ and in her free time she likes to travel and try new restaurants.