Ken Foy Repeats As Iron Chef

Back-to-back wins mark a new high-point

Ken Foy of Dante's Fire restaurant has been on a journey, from New Jersey to his restaurant on Grant Road. It's been a thrilling ride for one of the most talented, and friendly, chef in the kitchen. Here's more about his tale. 

What was your childhood life like? What were your interests? What did you want to be when you "grew up"? Did you or your family members have a passion for preparing fantastic foods?

Growing up was pretty normal. I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. Typical suburbia. My interests were baseball, football, and lacrosse (then a northeast thing).

Childhood me thought I was going to be a lawyer or an architect. Food preparation ran in the family. My grandfather ran a pharmacy in Philadelphia complete with soda jerk. My other grandparents owned a greasy spoon in upstate New York. My uncle was in multi-unit restaurant chain management. My adopted uncle Marty (not related but I called him Uncle Marty. He was a constant in my life from the time I was 13 until he passed away 2 years ago) had a restaurant and catering company in the Washington DC area.  

What would you tell the 12-year-old Ken Foy about the road ahead? And what should you watch out for as you headed down that road?

You will never believe this. Be careful. The "fun" people don’t have your best interests in mind.

When did you start cooking? And what was your favorite (or first) thing that you made regularly?

My first restaurant job was washing dishes in a local dinner. One of the first things I cooked regularly was chicken marsala. It is on the menu today at Dante’s Fire (completely redesigned).

If you were not a chef, what would you be today?

An attorney, an architect, or inmate number 564895.

How would you describe the style of your cuisine today? Any clues about where you see your style going? Evolving?

My cooking style pulls from a lot of different influences. My food tends to remind me of memories. The evolution is more about refining the expression than reinventing my style.  

Assuming you worked your way through the restaurant world (or if you didn't), how did you start in a commercial kitchen, when, and where? What did that teach you that has been most important to your professional growth?

Washing dishes was my first restaurant job (as it should be for any respectable chef) at age 13 without a valid work permit at Janell’s dinner. The most important thing it taught me was speed is an asset and the more you know, the more you are worth.

When and where did you start cooking in Tucson?

I was recruited as the executive chef for Tucson County Club in 2005, I believe. I relocated from the D.C. area to accept the position.

Who in the fine cuisine world of Arizona are you watching? And why?

Kevin Binkley, Charleen Badman,  John Martinez, and Obadiah (Obie) Hindman. These chefs are doing some of the finest work in the state of Arizona, in my opinion.

What characteristics make for a good chef?

Determination, the ability to dust yourself off after a bad play ( like a quarterback after a pick 6), never believe the naysayers. Mute that nonsense.

What cuisine type or dish is the hardest to master?

Absolutely south Asian / Indian cuisine is the hardest. Everything we learn in European-based cuisine is almost inverted. In most cookery, you start with all your ingredients and cook everything and reduce to concentrate flavors. In Indian cuisine, you start with a few ingredients and continue to add more over time, increasing volume and building layers of flavor.

Are there certain things in your kitchen -- from tools to ingredients -- that are absolutely essential to your work? 

A good mixer, blender, and mandoline are essential and a good knife is always required. Ingredients: butter, cream, eggs, and fresh produce. You can make almost anything.

Who would you most like to cook for on the planet? And what would you make?

Having cooked for presidents and celebrities I have kinda scratched that itch. It was certainly cool to cook a meal under the watchful eye of the presidential steward singeing the container the meal went in, and seeing him run it out to Marine One helicopter. Pretty sure it was a golf cart. The man didn’t run, but regardless wicked cool. Tonight I'm cooking for my son. That’s the most important meal on my radar right now. He's is 15 and we are having Dungeness crab. That’s all I need.

In late July Dante’s Fire chef-owner Kenneth Foy became only the third Tucson chef to win back-to-back Iron Chef Tucson titles when he defeated Zio Peppe chef-owner Devon Sanner in the 15th annual competition at Casino del Sol.

Foy and his team practiced and prepared for the big event, knowing they were facing stiff competition from Sanner.  

Before a sold-out crowd of 700 in Casino del Sol’s Kitchen Stadium, the chefs had one hour to create four dishes that incorporated a last-minute secret ingredient: peanut butter. They also had to use Blue Moon beer in one dish.

Foy was hoping the secret ingredient would be short ribs, which was on the ingredients list that included eggs and celery. The list was shared with the contestants the day before the competition. Peanut butter turned out to be the surprise, required ingredient.

Sanner envisioned Ugandan peanut soup with ginger and pineapple. The soup was a hit during his 15-year stint at Janos Wilder’s Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails.

Foy’s opening dish was a peanut-butter-and-jelly intermezzo featuring blueberries, peanut butter, and semi fredo. Next up was pan-seared pork loin served with a sweet potato poblano hash, and a peanut butter molasses demi-glace followed by a peanut butter ale risotto with a splash of Blue Moon beer. The risotto included quick tempura shrimp, asparagus, and a lobster peanut vinaigrette.

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