Chef Weston Holland - Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Food has always played a significant role in my life and I believe from an early age I was set on a path that would eventually lead me into a career in the food service industry. I grew up being raised by a single mother, who despite working part time jobs and going to college always found time to encourage her food curious son. Even if it meant sacrificing funds that could go elsewhere she always managed to afford me the food I wanted to cook with. I spent much of my adolescent years cooking for friends and family, always being told I made “amazing” food. This continued into my college years but remained a hobby until while working as a front desk clerk at a resort in northern Minnesota I got my first big break into the industry. The Resort’s restaurant, suffered a devastating blow when both of their lead cooks quit, leaving the line unmanned. I was approached by the general manager, who knew I loved cooking and was asked If I was interested in giving cooking professionally a shot. Nervously, I took the chance and to no surprise, fell in love with it immediately. I worked through the rest of the season and was asked to return the following season to help the kitchen and develop their new menu. I’ve never left the kitchen ever since.
How do you leverage local ingredients to align with ASDM mission?
The mission of ASDM is to promote harmonious living with the environment and to encourage a deeper understanding of our surroundings, the great Sonoran Desert. I’m a firm believer that a chef is only as good as the food he works with. In conjunction with the Museum and various food sustainability organizations, I strive to bring our guests not only delicious food, but food that is environmentally sound. I’ve also strived to write a menu that features local and indigenous ingredients in order to show case food harvested here in the Sonoran Desert.
What is your favorite or first food memory?
My first food memory is sitting on the kitchen floor of my grandparents house, while my grandmother made enchiladas. Enchiladas were a holiday mainstay in my family and as I got older my Grandmother would include me in the process of making them until one day, years later, I was cooking them from start to finish.
What do you love most about your job?
The part of my job I enjoy the most is creating specials with my team. I thoroughly enjoy prepping the menu I’ve developed to be replicated every week, but I get super excited when the other cooks and I get together to come up with something completely off the menu. It draws not only on my knowledge but that of my team as well. It becomes a dish representative of each one of us.
Being younger than some of the cooks you work with, is there a process where you have
to earn their respect?
Working with cooks older than myself is nothing new to me. I usually begin a new relationship with a co-worker by stating that I don’t know everything and that I never will. Cooking is a life long journey and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. On a day to day basis I try to utilize their years of experience by always including them in decision making and the creative process. This seems to help them feel respected and appreciated.
What cooking skill required in your kitchen is the most difficult to master?
Cooking a perfect Corn Custard was far more challenging than my team and I anticapted this past mother’s day. After a few rounds of trial and error one of my cooks finally got it perfect but we all decided we’d be leaving it off the brunch buffet next year.
Favorite foods to cook with?
I really enjoy working with locally sourced produce. There’s something special about using produce grown in the community I’m a part of. In particular I’ve really enjoyed cooking with Sonoran Mushroom Company’s Bacon Oyster Mushrooms. They’re Delicious!
Is there a food you can’t bring yourself to eat?
I will always try something at least once, but something I will never try again is Fermented Icelandic Shark. It straight up tasted like what ammonia smells like and the taste stayed in my mouth for days. NEVER AGAIN!
What’s your last meal on earth, if you had the chance to choose?
If I had to choose my final meal on Earth, it would have to be my Grandmother’s Enchiladas. Simple and Sentimental.