5 questions, 4.9 answers
What’s your favorite dish to cook on a personal level and why?
In my neighborhood, my back yard is affectionately referred to as the pit, as there always seems to be something getting rubbed, smoked, and mopped. It’s not a favorite dish per se, but my personal culinary comfort zone is definitely barbeque.
The interrelationship between wood and meat has fascinated me for years, and it presents exciting opportunities, and even challenges, when it comes to hitting the sweet spot with the perfect pairing. Not all woods are created equal, and part of the fun for me is playing with a variety of woods to see how the subtleties of the smoke can maximize the protein’s potential.
I also find the barbeque process to be quite meditative. Nothing happens fast in the ‘cue zone. From the moment you rub down your meats and deliver them to the smoker, you’re making a real commitment, many times a commitment of more than 15 hours, and this is nature’s gentle way of reminding me to simply slow things down.
What’s the best or most memorable meal you have eaten lately? What makes it special?
A great culinary experience is what memories are made of, and one of my most memorable meals is the Pato at Reforma Cocina y Cantina.
The dish, which really is a snapshot of Central Mexico, is anchored by a slow-roasted duck confit, served with chorizo, plantains, potatoes, and a poblano chile mole.
What’s special about this dish is how the distinct flavor and texture of each ingredient harmonizes so well with its companions on the plate. An hours-long confit process renders a beautifully tender duck, which works nicely with the sense-of-place spice from the chorizo and the sweetness of the plantains, and the mole brings it all together in a rich and rewarding experience. Oh, and don’t forget a couple ounces of a smoky mezcal to prepare your palate beforehand!
What’s your favorite food city? Why?
In the late 1990s, my business took me to New Orleans every month for more than two years. I quickly fell in love with the culture of its cuisine and was honestly surprised to learn how many different interpretations there were of the New Orleans style. The cuisine is not narrowly defined by Cajun or Creole, or by otherwise generic boundaries of the north or south. In the Big Easy, the culinary styles can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, or ward to ward, and it’s this hyperlocal experience that makes New Orleans my favorite food city.
A good meal is not complete without ___
For me, a meal must do more than simply taste good to earn the memorable mark. The setting, the service, and the spirit of the moment are equally as important, and good meals often become great meals when all three are on point.
The right beverages also play a central role in rounding out the greatness of a meal, whether it’s a thoughtful cocktail or craft brew on the front, an intentionally paired wine in the middle, or a dark spirit at the end. What’s in the glass has as much value to me as what’s on the plate.
Finally, a great meal is not complete without the right music. It’s physically impossible for me to serve barbeque at my home without the backdrop of a blues soundtrack. Similarly, I can’t remember the last time I shook up a martini and plated up a bone-in ribeye from my grill without Sinatra in surround sound. I’m weird, I know. Just ask my kids.
Name 3 of your favorite local restaurants
Oh no you didn’t! How can I possibly answer that question when it’s a challenge to produce a list of my top ten restaurants much less my top three.
Matt Russell is also the restaurant and entertainment correspondent for the Bill Buckmaster Show on KVOI, AM 1030, and author of the bi-weekly food and beverage column for Inside Tucson Business, Southern Arizona’s business journal.
Matt serves throughout the year as a judge at local and national food and cocktail competitions, including Iron Chef Tucson, Agave Fest, Tucson Taco Festival, NOLA Nights, Tucson Firefighters’ Chili Cook-off, Southern Arizona Smokin’ Showdown, and the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off in Nevada.
When he’s not on the radio, writing his column, or serving as master of ceremonies at community events, he’s running Russell Public Communications, a public relations agency with offices in Tucson and Washington, D.C.
Karyn Zoldan: Matt is one of the nicest people you’re ever going to meet in Tucson. Please listen to his radio show. You can follow him anywhere and follow him On the Menu Live on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.