Carriage House Ushers in Tucson’s New Era as “City of Gastronomy”
February 4, 2016
by Mariana Colín
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designation of Tucson as the nation’s first World City of Gastronomy is the latest acknowledgement of a fact Tucsonans have known for centuries. To put it mildly: when it comes to food, Tucson knows what it’s doing.
From being the location of the oldest confirmed agricultural site in the country to being home to a constantly shifting but consistently delicious meld of American and Mexican cuisine, Tucson has been honing the quality and sustainability of its food since before the founding of the United States.
Chef Janos Wilder is just one of Tucson’s culinary claims to fame. The James Beard Award-winning founder and chef of DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails, his 35-year career has contributed immeasurably to Tucson’s food scene. And this year, auspiciously timed right after UNESCO’s announcement, he will realize his dream of opening a Downtown cooking school.
“I’ve been thinking about it for at least 5 years,” says Janos. “We just needed to wait for the right location.”
His patience was rewarded when an apartment building within walking distance of DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails went up for sale. The location is perfect for what Janos has in mind.
The venue, called Carriage House, will be a culmination of the gastronomic excellence for which Tucson is now recognized worldwide. The all-purpose location will host weddings, parties, and company meetings, among other public and private get-togethers.
Janos is planning a partnership with this year’s Agave Fest, and says we can look forward to Carriage House hosting many more Tucson food events. It will also serve as an outlet for catering, which Janos has always wanted to do on a larger scale.
The cooking classes, each hosted by a different Tucson chef, will center around three basic themes: general chef’s cooking, mixology (including classes on wine), and a locavore class dedicated to Tucson’s City of Gastronomy label. Janos says a class focused on local food was always in the works, and UNESCO’s announcement only reaffirms the value of the idea. Though Janos is pleased with UNESCO’s announcement, he simply sees it as the world catching up to what Tucson has been offering for ages.
“Heritage is really important here,” he says. “Our cultural and agricultural heritage really give Tucson a sense of place. We have a layer of depth, richness, and inspiration you don’t find anywhere else.”
He attributes part of Tucson’s success to its sense of community, an idea that was central to the creation of Carriage House. Janos wants the venue to be a social space where ideas can be shared. To this end, part of the construction plan is to install a series of video cameras and TVs in the space that the chefs teaching classes can use to record their and their students’ work and post online.
Carriage House is still under construction, but will be ready by February 11th for their opening event, a dinner in partnership with the University of Arizona to celebrate Tucson’s City of Gastronomy label.
“It’s an opportunity to rejoice and celebrate that designation, and it’s the first time anyone will see Carriage House,” says Janos.
On February 27th, Janos will host the first in his scheduled series of cooking classes by Downtown chefs. But the first large-scale event of the venue will take place on March 6th, when the 3rd annual Chef’s Table will take place, bringing the giants of the Tucson food world together to benefit Tu Nidito and the Fox Theatre.
“We started Chef’s Table two years ago as a focus on the renaissance taking place in Downtown,” says Janos. “It was an opportunity to have a little fun as chefs, and raise money for the benefit of the community.”
Last year’s sellout event included offerings from 8 Downtown chefs. In a showcase for all the great, locally-produced food of Downtown, Chef’s Table included hors d’oeuvres and a five-course meal collectively created by many of the chefs who will return this year, including chefs and mixologists from 47 Scott, Augustin, Proper, Pizzeria Bianco, Penca, and Reilly. Each chef will present his or her own individual style with their food or drink, combining to create a portrait of Tucson’s now internationally famous food culture. Last year, the event raised over $21,000 for Tu Nidito and the Fox Theatre. Janos expects this year’s Chef’s Table to attract an even larger crowd.
There has never been a better time to show off the unique taste of Tucson to the world, and Carriage House seems poised to take on the job; a building dedicated to the celebration of Tucson’s culinary past, present, and future.
“There’s definitely a new-kitchen smell,” says Janos. “It smells like possibility, the clean scent of possibility. And that’s what we have here.”