Tucson native Ryan Clark, partner and executive chef at Agustin Kitchen, really needs no introduction. The culinary badass has certainly made quite the name for him in town already at just 29 years old. Besides graduating top of his class and dean's list from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Clark has worked at some of the all-star Tucson restaurants like Fuego, Canyon Ranch and the Dish. He really made his bones as executive chef at Lodge on the Desert, where he became three-time Tucson Iron Chef. In 2012, he was nominated by Food and Wine Magazine as one of the top 10 Best New Chefs in the Southwest. He also has a cookbook out, "Modern Southwest Cooking," that showcases innovative recipes that combine his passion for regional cooking and local ingredients.
—C.J. Hamm, email@example.com
What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
When I was growing up, my family didn't eat out very often, so a lot of meals were prepared at home. We would cook together and make great dishes like pierogies, classic Polish dumplings, from scratch. Making classic dishes like this gave me a great respect for the time, effort and love that can go into one simple dish. It gave me a broader perspective and understanding of culinary cultures and inspired me to learn more.
What are you eating these days?
I usually eat Sonoran Mexican food—aside from being delicious it represents the flavors and history of Tucson's humble roots. I am a huge fan of the simple food they serve at places like El Sur or El Torero.
What was the first dish you remember cooking?
My family is Norwegian/English so we would cook a lot of different foods. One of the first dishes I remember cooking was a simple oyster soup. The combination and flavors of freshly shucked oysters and their liquor, the heavy cream, salt and paprika were a revelation—it's still one of my favorite dishes.
What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can't stomach?
Craft cocktails that are full of sugar. I'm more of a classic cocktail guy and I like the booze to be up front.
What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
I would want to sit down with Sean Brock. His philosophy on food heritage is similar to mine except that we cook in different regions. I would love to pick his brain on where he thinks food culture will be in 20 years.
What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
It would be hard to pick just one so I will have to go 50/50 on Chicago and New York ... but I did list Chicago first.
Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Chips and salsa like the ones they serve at BOCA, Club 21 and Guadalajara Grill.
Top three Tucson restaurants?
Besides all the great spots at Mercado San Agustin I would have to say in no particular order Pizzeria Bianco (welcome to Tucson), Prep & Pastry and Kingfisher.
With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
Mom's spaghetti and a glass of Barolo.