Food For Thought - No Food Trends Here - Travis Peters
Tucked at the end of a mini plaza on the corner of Oracle and Orange Grove is a little Southern style piece of heaven called The Parish. I took a little trip to this wonderful corner and I met with chef Travis Peters and we talked all things food.
First, I wanted to know what inspired him to open The Parish and he shared with me that having his ideas shut down really led him to want to open his own doors and be able to experiment with food."I kept getting told that all of my ideas were bad ideas by the owners (of one of the first restaurants he worked at) and Steve Dunn was my boss and we just started talking and we kinda wanted to try all our bad ideas on our own, so we did and really that was kind of the first inspiration: being told that I couldn't do it. I felt a little underappreciated and I needed to grow and I just went for it - fail or succeed I just wanted to go for it. My big theory in life is I don't want to have any regrets".
With diving into new restaurant waters so quickly I was sure Travis learned some things along the way and he expressed how true to himself he is and how he's managed to always make and do what he feels is right. "I think the most important lesson I've learned is to stay true to myself and to cook how I want to cook and make my food how I want it to be made, to represent who I am as a human being and as a chef and I've stuck to that. I've done that and I think Tucson has received it well. That's sort of the conversation I want to have with Tucson, is to say "Hey give other things a chance" because there's a lot of replicated menus out there". What about food trends you ask? He has something to say about that too: "I don't keep up with them, I don't care about them, I don't participate in them at all. Zero. We literally do what we want."
Given that he has poured his heart and soul into this little Tucson gem there's certain things his customers should know and should expect from The Parish. It's such a different atmosphere and such a unique restaurant in every way that the people that come to eat here should have an exciting first and second and third experience. "Even though we are a southern restaurant and we have New Orleans roots we are Tucson to the bone. I grew up here I love this city even with all its faults. We try to make sure that all our art is local, all of our music is local and it's not a shtick it's literally who we are. We're Tucson kids! The whole goal for the interior was to make you kind of forget where you're at. Hopefully the interior takes you out of Tucson a little bit and out of the fact that you're at a mini mall in the North side of Tucson, you know". To anyone who's been to The Parish you know about those pink striped walls, and I had to ask if they were inspired by Victoria's Secret and of course Travis said no and he added in a silly tone that for the record they are different shades of pink (sorry Travis I had to for all of us out there wondering 😋). Travis designed the whole restaurant for you to be able to look at the painting of a renaissance looking lady hanging in the private dining area which he told me he found at a yard sale for $10! Not gonna lie, for those Harry Potter fans out there it literally reminded me of the singing fat lady portrait in Prisoner of Azkaban. So next time you're at The Parish look for the paining of the lady. He then proceeded to tell me that customers would definitely be pleased by the service because they strive for that Southern hospitality. He tells his staff to be "that old sweet grandma that makes sweet sweet tea, I want them to strive to be that person", as well as the flavor profiles because they don't hold back at all "you're not here for a diet" Travis says.
Speaking of flavors, The Parish food is so distinct that there has to be something more that makes it super special and I think there’s something to be said about that Southern take. Travis shares: "We don't follow any trends. We're always coming up with ways to honor old food and it's all southern food, I'll do some research and talk to other chefs to come up with new ideas." Of course with all good flavors comes food quality and Travis let me know that the quality of his food is priority. "That's number one to me. I go to restaurants where the service is terrible but the food is so good I don't care you know, because the quality is there. There's one reason you go to a restaurant, no one goes to eat at a restaurant that has amazing service and terrible food so I think the food has to speak very loudly at a restaurant, and it does". With such a great quality of food there has to be a high level quality of ingredients, so naturally where do The Parish's ingredients come from? "They come from all over the place. We have them brought in from everywhere whether it's a local farmer or a larger provider that gets them from somewhere else. We literally have them brought over here to taste test and we'll eat like 5 red potatoes from 5 different places and find the one that I like the most - we do that with everything. I taste everything and get it from where I want. We're not hyper-local, our concept doesn't allow for that but for example, our shrimp, we're the only place in Tucson that gets it shipped from Alabama and Louisiana literally because it tastes very different. It has a different flavor, you can taste what it's eating because it's all coming out of the gulf it's all coming out of their water and almost everyone in Tucson, and most of the country gets Tiger shrimp and sometimes Mexican shrimp but it’s all farmed and it tastes like rubbery shrimp it's all the same."
With that kind of passion there definitely had to be a favorite ingredient to use and some early life experience that inspired him. For his favorite ingredient at first he said Cayenne pepper just to let his staff win that battle but he said his favorite is definitely salt. "Salts amazing.' he says and fat for flavor. Having such wonderful success with The Parish now going on to its 7th year running there had to be some personal successes and some lessons learned along the way. He told me that learning how to deal with stress and being consistent are two of the hardest things but they make you that much more of a better chef. He betters himself by learning from everyone around him every chance he gets every day and probably the best thing that ever happened to him was that someone he once worked for decided to take a chance on him and told him to believe in himself and that has changed his life.
Travis has had many achievements and has managed to stay humble really just appreciating the fact that other local chefs have made their way to visit his restaurant and try his food. "I won Iron Chef, I just did the Food Network, we won a big cooking contest up in Phoenix, Rica (sous chef) and I - It's been crazy, but the coolest thing ever is when the local chefs bring their families here to eat and a lot of them have done it. I've seen a lot of the much better known chefs come here and they eat and then they come again so I know I didn't mess up. To me that's easily the best compliment."
I'd like to end with these two fun facts:
Travis wanted to be a rock star and he's still waiting for that record label phone call.
Street food is his favorite. Tacos and Menudo is all he needs in his life.
Come visit Travis at The Parish and let him know you read his Food For Thought!
Thanks for reading! Leave your comments below.
Food For Thought is a platform which highlights chefs and their personal stories and interests. It is a space where food creativity and passion come to life.