Chef : Devon Sanner
Restaurant: Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails and The Carriage House
Your Training/History: I've been a lifelong learner who took a circuitous route to becoming a chef. As a kid growing up in Tucson, tamales, tacos, and menudo were like mother's milk to me, but I also loved every opportunity to broaden my palate… whether it was sashimi, lamb vindaloo, or terrine of rabbit. The great confluence of cultures that is American cuisine has always been my inspiration. Fittingly, then, it was on my prom date at Janos' original location at the Stevens House, that a server described a dish as "Janos' vision of what a Japanese chef might prepare if asked to make a taco." That ephemeral but seminal moment planted a seed in my mind that would germinate over a decade later.
After graduating from Rincon/University High School, studying at the University of Arizona as a Flinn Scholar and National Merit Scholar, finishing a Master's in Slavic languages and literatures, taking doctoral coursework in language education at Indiana University, and doing a stint in Teach For America in Phoenix, I finally succumbed to my passion project and entered the culinary field at the relatively ancient age of 30.
I trained at Le Cordon Bleu Scottsdale Culinary Institute, and upon completion, performed my externship at Janos and JBAR. In under two years, I rose from commis to sous chef, and less than two years later, became the Chef de Cuisine. In 2012, I became the Chef de Cuisine at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, and in 2016, was the opening Executive Chef at The Carriage House. With Janos' support and encouragement, I also served as chef-tournant at The American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival 3 times, and worked as a stagiaire at Chicago's illustrious Tru and Alinea restaurants, and at Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Noodle Bar in Manhattan.
In keeping with my lifelong passion for learning (and teaching), I have founded, with my phenomenally talented chef colleagues here, the non-profit organization - Gastronomic Union of Tucson, which seeks to promote culinary education and creative exchange within our UNESCO-designated World City of Gastronomy community.
Your Specialties: I think globally and cook locally. Being with Janos all these years, I've been blessed with the opportunity and challenge of doing menus that are quintessentially Tucson as well as menus inspired by cuisines from all over the world. Particularly with Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails' Downtowns Around The Globe menu series every summer, I have the opportunity to delve into cuisines, techniques, and foods that I may already know and love, or that may be wholly new and wondrous and daunting. Whatever the case, I embrace the opportunity to grow as a chef and cook.
I can derive inspiration from almost anything, and my mind races to "How can I make that something delicious? How can I make that fun and playful? How can I make that compelling?" When I was developing the Dim Sum and Then Some menu at The Carriage House, I was generating a lot of scrap skin from animal butchery, so I took a nod from a chicharrón dish developed by local badass chef Virginia Wooters and turned it into Animal Crackers, aka Crispy Four Skins - chicharrónes of pork, duck, chicken, and salmon skin seasoned with shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7 spice) and served with XO aïoli and sweet chile sauce.
I'm also keen to learn anything I can from whomever I can; if your nana shares her secret know-how for masa dumplings, I'm all over it. If a former mortgage banker-turned-baker has the perfect tangzhong water-roux technique to dial in my char siu bao game, I'll eagerly learn.
Why You Became a Chef: Being a chef scratches nearly every itch for me. It's inspiration, dedication, perspiration, and celebration. It's endlessly learning cultures, cuisines, and techniques, from ancient to bleeding-edge modern. It's tremendously sensual: the eye-popping delight of Romanesco's green Fibonacci perfection; the scent of caramelizing onions with thyme for French onion soup; the raucous hiss and pop of Brussels sprouts blistering in a deep-fryer, the crispy and unctuous and melting mouthfeel of superbly cooked skin-on pork belly, the exquisite taste of an immaculately ripe peach… all of the senses stimulated and attenuated by the skill, care, and discipline of the kitchen brigade. Being able to share those delights with my brethren and sistren of the kitchen and being able to give those delights to our diners is ineffably joyous for me. If we in the kitchen have done our job right, you're mentally high-fiving us after you get lucky tonight.
Why you think you can win 2018 Iron Chef Tucson: I think I can win the title of Iron Chef Tucson because I'm fearless in my approach to cuisine, and humble enough to know that there is always more for me to learn. Either win or fail upwards. Take the big risk and have faith. Be bold, be honest, and strive continually to get better. I've sought to learn from the best teachers and mentors I can - whether they're James Beard winners, Michelin-starred chefs, a local kick-ass butcher, an unheralded pitmaster, or a home cook who just makes delicious food.
To that mix, add an outstanding crew with a dedication to excellence and creativity. They've got smarts and skills and can throw down with anyone. There's a synergistic chemistry in our creative collaboration that not only makes our food better, it makes us better as cooks.
Lastly, I'm serious about fun. A little peacocking is fantastic to share with diners, as long as you make sure it's not all sizzle and no steak. The goal is to put the "baller" in "caballero", not the "bro" in "cabrón".