Making a Banquet Out of Beets

Chef Carlotta Flores tells about the banquet she prepared last night for patrons of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. She tells John Ydstie her philosophy: the difference between a normal meal and a banquet is passion.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Audience members attending the Tucson Symphony Orchestra performance last evening were treated to a banquet of music and food. Chef Carlotta Flores prepared a gourmet meal for the guests. It even included musical salad, where boiled beets were cut into the shape of notes. Flores operates El Charro Café and Catering in Tucson, Arizona. She's the third generation in her family to run the business. For our food moment this week, we asked Chef Flores what she was serving.

Ms. CARLOTTA FLORES (Chef, El Charro Café and Catering): We will be doing our house specialty which is carne seca, which is a beef jerky marinated in garlic and lime juice, and it is hung in a wire cage above the main restaurant downtown for 24 hours, and it comes out stiff like a rock, and then we reprocess that product and sauté green chili, tomato and onion, and it is the most popular, delicious, garlic-infused piece of meat you've ever tasted.

YDSTIE: You're making my mouth water.

Ms. FLORES: And then that's gonna go into a small type of tortilla which resembles a wonton but is not, it's wafer thin, and they're folded and, yeah, deep-fried or baked, and for dessert we're doing a chocolate brownie with ewara(ph) sauce.

YDSTIE: It sounds delicious.

Ms. FLORES: Well, I hope it all turns out as well as it sounds. It looks like we're in the progress of having a very successful dinner.

YDSTIE: So take me back a little. Can you remember a memorable feast that your mother or maybe an aunt prepared for you?

Ms. FLORES: My mother, every Monday when we were little girls, would make chicken with tomatoes, and we used to call it the I Love Lucy chicken. Because...

YDSTIE: Why?

Ms. FLORES: Because it was a special treat to sit down on Monday nights, watch I Love Lucy, and have my mom's spaghetti with chicken in tomatoes, and it was delicious.

YDSTIE: Mmm.

Ms. FLORES: In our family, cooking has always been a feast. It's never been anything different, and there's different reasons for different types of banquets, and they all lend themselves to either favored dishes that were of the person that they've lost or the couple that they're celebrating or, in my case, my dad used to have to have refried beans at every meal, and we always have refried beans at Christmas and Thanksgiving and any place where all our family would gather, and they're always put there as a remembrance of my dad.

I have nieces who have to have green bean casserole every Thanksgiving no matter what, and whether they're there at the table or not, we always have it because it reminds us of them. And so in doing that we kind of keep our family in our tradition of having a table with people that we love and care for and that we need to remember.

YDSTIE: Chef Carlotta Flores operates El Charro Café and Catering in Tucson, Arizona. Thanks so much for your time.

Ms. FLORES: You're welcome, and I've enjoyed being with you today.

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