This week, our foodservice and marketing team took a trip to the desert to meet with our 2019 Chef Invitational Top Chef and Ambassador Chef Travis G. Peters - Tucson native, chef and restaurant owner of Southern Infusion Gastropub The Parish.
The chef spoke to us about 'stories' and the importance of telling a story through his cuisine. That said, we decided to tell our own story about our experience this week with Chef Peters in his kitchen, and some of the inspiration behind our Chef Ambassador's menu.
After a missed connection at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona and a desert drive along interstate 10 to Tucson, we watched the sun set amidst the saguaros as we finally arrived to a bright red neon sign reading 'The Parish' . We had held off on calorie- consumption all day in anticipation of the dishes we knew we were about to experience at our Chef Ambassador’s restaurant – and boy, was it worth the wait.
Our 2019 Chef Invitational Top Chef and Ambassador Travis G. Peters greeted us with excitement and gleamed as he welcomed us into his territory. Chef Peters was able to take a break from the kitchen and enjoy the dinner with us – and of course, we ordered almost one of everything on the menu.
It is safe to say we indulged in a true Parish experience – from bacon popcorn, to a mouth watering goat cheese Chile Relleno, a Creole BBQ cream sauce shrimp and grits entrée, and his infamous Blueberry Sweet Tea Smoked Chicken with Raspberry Dill Barbecue Sauce and Black and Blue Brussels that ultimately landed him his title of California Giant Top Chef this June. His winning dish at the competition featured grilled quail, and now a chicken variation has quickly turned into a crowd-favorite on his menu.
Upon first glance at Chef Peters, he bares vibrant and eclectic tattoos – some that tell a story, and some that might be left to interpretation (or imagination). One tattoo placed prominently on his forearm beams of red and green - the famous neon saguaro sign that glows just off Tucson’s Miracle Mile – an ode and tribute to the city and culture that inspires his cuisine every day.
The wildly talented and award-winning chef could not be more humble and modest. The chef exclaimed, ‘I was so nervous to have you guys here!’ and would ask: ‘Are you sure you like the food?’ With our mouths full, all we could respond with was - of course we do. We couldn’t get enough of the sweet and spicy southern flavor infusions, vibrant colors, textures, infused berry spirits and not to mention, the delectable house-made dessert to end the evening: bread pudding. Everything was impeccable, and not just that, it all told a story.
Everything that Chef Peters does seems to tell a story. From the array of neon colors, local art on the walls and the funky décor that makes up the interior his restaurant - to his boldly-plated dishes, witty homemade and hand-bottled hot sauces and the tattoos found up and down his arms. But most notably, his love and passion for his family and hometown shines through everything he does. It is almost as if everything ‘matches’ – his food matches his restaurant décor, his style, his personality – it all tells a story.
An interesting characteristic of Chef Peters is his desire to steer away from the norm – but this is not so surprising once you get to know the chef. Many chefs might look for trends to strategize their menu offerings, but Chef Peters asserts that he ‘actually avoids trends’.
“If I see something blow up in the food scene, I actually try to get away from that so I can get ahead and do something different” says Chef Peters. “I really like to just mess around and experiment - but it has to tell a story.”
Speaking of stories, the chef spoke about how he turns classic components of traditional dishes into a ‘Parish-inspired’ dish – full of Tucson and Southern-flared influences.
“Fish and chips is a classic favorite – but just like a standard Caesar salad – it was never something I wanted on my menu unless it told a story,” says Peters.
“Before I add a new menu item I ask myself ‘what story is this going to tell?’ I have to go Southern all the way, as well as pay my homage to Tucson. With that, I started melding the two together in my menu and this Fish and Chips recipe is just an example of how I do that. I brought in Catfish from Mississippi, and sourced the remainder of my ingredients and spices from Tucson so I can turn traditional recipes into something more focused and smart. I ultimately want to tell stories with my food.”
When it comes to California Giant berries on the menu, he tells his patrons the story of visiting our lush farms, meeting our growers, tasting various berry varieties and competing among other talented chefs for the title of Top Chef in June. Now, he explains that he only requests the California Giant label when sourcing berries for his menu – because of quality, consistency, and our story that he now gets to tell.
The Chef is both calculated and purposeful in everything he does. Even his bottled hot sauces have become staples in his restaurant, and sell off the shelves quicker than they’re added to it.
“The whole reason I got into hot sauce was because I had 30 lbs. of hail-damaged peaches, and I just won an Iron Chef competition with the main ingredient being peaches. I told the distributor, ‘I’ll take all of them’, says Chef Peters. “I don’t need the peaches to be pretty - so I did a peach habanero hot sauce. I am noticing that there is a demand for ‘ugly’ produce from chefs – it may not be beautiful for the plate, but there will be other uses for it rather than it going into the trash.”
Now, the chef has a blueberry fermented habanero hot sauce, as well as a raspberry dill barbecue hot sauce – both created with California Giant berries.
Food waste is important to Chef Peters, and produce certainly does not go to waste in his kitchen – with berry sauces, pickling and fermenting methods, berry infused spirits, and even fruit-infused salts next on his radar.
From our multiple-course meal, to a first-look at Chef Peters in the kitchen creating every berry-inspired item he offers on his menu, to touring his hometown and chasing the sunset and saguaros – we can only imagine what’s next in our Chef Ambassador’s story.
Are you local to Tucson? Heading to the desert any time soon? Be sure to check out our Chef Ambassador's menu at The Parish, and comment below a berry-inspired recipe you'd like to see this fall-winter season!