Get Lit(erary): AZ Chef Cookbooks

Elote Cafe - Pork Cheeks - 410x450
Elote Cafe's smoked pork cheeks with cascabel chile sauce and buttermilk cumin drizzle
Churros - Ryan Clark - 410x450
Chef Ryan Clark's churros with cinnamon ancho sugar and dipping sauce

We asked Tucson Foodie's lead blogger and food influencer, Jackie Tran, to recommend his favorite cookbooks. (Since he's written more than 800 articles about Arizona's food scene, he's kind of an expert.) Any of these books would make a thoughtful gift to the foodie in your life.

"Modern Southwest Cooking" by Ryan Clark

Casino Del Sol executive chef and three-time Iron Chef Tucson Ryan Clark oversees restaurants ranging from the high-end PY Steakhouse to the fast taqueria Abuelitas. He also holds the distinction of crafting the World's Greatest Margarita, when his Tatas & Tequila margarita won the title at the Seventh Annual World Margarita Championship in 2012.

In his cookbook, the Tucson native shares recipes that feature Southwest ingredients (chiles, cactus, indigenous vegetables, native meats—including rattlesnake), inspiration from around the world and modern cooking techniques. An entire page breaks down the different types of chiles and their heat, so if you're a spice neophyte, this book's for you. While a few recipes call for specialized equipment such as a smoke gun, most of them are approachable and easy to pull off. The Passionfruit and Chiltepin Spritz is great for parties, especially with a splash—or five—of mezcal.

Buy it: $16 on Amazon or your local bookstore.


"Bianco: Pizza, Pasta and Other Food I Like" by Chris Bianco

James Beard award-winning chef Chris Bianco helped pioneer artisanal pizza in America at his Phoenix restaurant Pizzeria Bianco. Since then his pies have been lauded the world over by the likes of Oprah (she claimed it was her favorite) and The New York Times. While pizza dough and pizza sauce are two of the most vital recipes in Bianco's cookbook (learn how to sweeten tomato sauce to perfection), even the salad dressing recipes are worth memorizing. 

Watch Chef Bianco talk with Jimmy Kimmel about the book—it's fun to follow the recipes while you also have Bianco's energetic voice narrating.

Buy it: $24 on Amazon, $31.50 on Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.


"The Great Chiles Rellenos Book" by Janos Wilder

Not only has Tucson chef Janos Wilder won a coveted James Beard Award, but this French-trained chef also had a pivotal role in shaping the Arizona food scene. He opened his first restaurant, Barrio Viejo, at the Tucson Museum of Art in 1983, and the menu's blend of local ingredients (blue cornmeal, prickly pear, mesquite flour) prepared with French techniques caught the attention—and accolades—of national critics and local diners alike.

In his cookbook, Chef Wilder discusses his adventure in developing the ideal chiles rellenos. After countless experiments in the kitchen, Wilder curated a list of more than 30 recipes with stylish modern rellenos, jalapeño poppers and an assortment of delectable sauces. As the title implies, this book is all about the quest for the "great" chiles rellenos. Join him for the tasty journey.

Buy it: $17 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.


"The Elote Cafe Cookbook" by Jeff Smedstad

Visitors to Sedona, as well as local diners, flock to Elote Cafe, where chef Jeff Smedstad whips up elevated Mexican food. Smedstad attended the Seasons of my Heart Cooking School in Oaxaca and traveled extensively throughout Mexico. The menu at Elote specializes in the cuisine of southern and deep interior Mexico—like lamb adobo, inspired by Smedstad's visit to Veracruz, or smoked chicken enchiladas, a take on enchiladas suiza from Mexico City.

This cookbook compiles Chef Smedstad's notes on new and old Elote Cafe dishes, methods, refinements—even his musings and thoughts. The book teaches home chefs how to make fundidos and cook in a pit-barrel smoker. Several of the recipes call for authentic Mexican peppers and cheeses, so you might have to make a trip to the Mexican market to obtain certain ingredients.

Buy it: $35 at the Elote Cafe website.

Jackie Tran

About the Author: Jackie Tran

Jackie Tran is the lead food writer and photographer for Tucson Foodie.

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