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Spice Girl

From cart to concept, Tumerico finally finds a permanent home

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Wendy Garcia is a hurricane.

This Hermosillo native, who's called Tucson home for almost 20 years, whirls around her recently opened restaurant on Sixth Street (2526 E. 6th St.) like a typhoon that's hit the espresso bar too often.

It is the day before the grand opening of her brick and mortar version of her food cart and catering company and the small space is packed. There are only so many tables, but Wendy insists everyone who passes through the door will get served. With that kind of ambitious hospitality, she scurries towards the back of the house and pulls a table she was using to prep some vegetables for the next big day. The walk-in party consisting of moms and their kids are at first confused then absolutely delighted. They inform her that they are willing to wait, but Wendy insists.

"For you, I will make some space," she says as she clears out a bit of room in the center of the floor, nestling the makeshift table and folding chairs next to other diners delighting in their lunchtime fare. "And I want you to try my food. Because I know you will love it."

The good people of Tucson have enjoyed Wendy's fresh, healthy and delicious food now for more than two years. What started out as a makeshift wagon parked near brew houses or a gravel plot at local farmers markets, Tumerico has garnered enough credential and a solid fan base to become its own stand-alone restaurant.

Barely a week or two from being open, her business of composing and sharing her northern Mexican-inspired cuisine is obviously booming and will most likely continue to grow. From the happy faces and gratitude of her patrons, that is quite apparent.

"All I want, all I ever wanted since moving here, was to eat good food," Wendy says as she pours big glasses of her popular chai tea for lucky patrons. "I grew up on a farm, my father was a farmer, and we always had the freshest food, real food, to eat. But when I moved to the city there was something missing in what I was eating. Not just flavor but authenticity. Tucson is a big food city and they deserve something better than bad food with no flavor."

Wendy's cuisine is, in its essence, vegetarian, but it goes further and beyond veggie fare. When you bite into and savor her food you can taste the farm-raised girl in every dish she puts in front of you. Rich and profound flavors emerge from not just the rawness of the ingredients, but , the care and use of the spices she likes to indulge in.

"I love, love using spices," Wendy says, as she plates up her huevos rancheros served with a side of tepary beans and drizzled with a spirited red sauce that is, yes, brimming with spice. "To me, spices are what fill the soul. It not only brings out the flavor in the food but it can be healing as well. There is a lot to be said about the healing power of spices. Especially turmeric. Obviously ... that is my favorite."

What makes Tumerico so unique is that there is no menu. Not a traditional laminated or even a take-out type. Her menu is on blackboards, depending on what arrived still dirty from the soil or tree and eggs plucked that morning from happy hens roosting in a nearby chicken farm. So, in a way, her daily specials are always special because they change with the seasons or Wendy's ingenious whims. And the eggs are the only animal product you will find on the daily menu. The rest come from the fertile grounds of Southern Arizona.

As her chef cooks up another batch of black bean and butternut squash tamales, her one server running plates of sweet potato pancakes to that table of children, some friends helping her out in the back wash dishes while Wendy dishes a vegetable medley and market greens onto plates.

Wendy beams with pride among the chaos.

"This is all about community. I only use produce from local farms. I get my eggs from a vendor about a mile away. This is the food that I like to eat and I will only serve that kind of food to my guests." Wendy then points to a prep table that is brimming with autumn vegetables such as peppers, squashes and sprouts. "Those will be dealt with soon. That is tomorrow's menu. The big day, our grand opening! What will they become?"

She then smiles wide with a playful shrug and says, "I don't know yet."

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