There’s a lot of buzz among foodies and chefs these days about eating local.
Omar Huerta, executive chef of Wildflower New American Cuisine, says this movement is a way of celebrating the connections between food and the Southwest region. He takes inspiration from his surroundings, from what is available locally, and works it into his menu throughout the year.
"It’s new American cuisine, which, to me, means the freedom to do a little bit of everything," Huerta said.
Huerta's menu is seasonal. He designs dishes around ingredients that are available locally.
He said paella is the most popular item on the menu.It is a traditional Spanish dish, and Huerta has modified it to produce quick individual servings that incorporate locally sourced ingredients.
"Tomatoes are great… if you can find them at a farmers' market… same thing with the peas, especially in the spring and summer," Huerta said. "Every once in a while you’ll find a local rancher, with some nice cattle, that will make chorizo… and if you can find that, man that’s great stuff to use."
Wildflower customers have become more aware and somewhat demanding when it comes to menu items, Huerta explained. He said requests for gluten free items, organic produce, and locally sourced ingredients are common. So, a trip to the farmers' market an important part of his job.
"We want the freshest, best product possible so we’ll search around and do what we can, but when we can we’ll we get it here… locally," Huerta said.
Huerta's menu is known for the seafood dishes, and he tries to pair each dish with some of the items he finds at the local farmers' market.
Huerta said cooking for him, whether at home or at the restaurant, is about maintaining connections with local culture and environment. And, since he’s from Tucson, finding a way to maintain a connection with the local community is important to him.
"Growing up in Arizona, it was always chiles with everything, chorizo for breakfast every morning… it’s American cuisine but we get the chance to add those Latin spices or those French techniques and stuff… and putting that all together to make something great like this," he said.
Huerta shares his Wildflower paella recipe.