A Conversation with Derrick Widmark

November 20, 2014 |
Derrick Widmark at Good Oak a few days before opening in 2013. Photo by Blake Collins.

Derrick Widmark at Good Oak a few days before opening in 2013. Photo by Blake Collins.

Table Settings

Derrick Widmark is the owner of Diablo Burger, a popular Flagstaff restaurant he opened in 2009. Last year, Widmark expanded his operation to Tucson, opening two businesses on Congress Street – Diablo Burger Tucson and Good Oak Bar, both specializing in Arizona sourced food and drink. We asked Widmark a few questions about his relationship with food. He had this to say…

On opening diablo burger

I was working for the Diablo Trust, a ranching-based collaborative conservation group, and became intrigued with the connection between local food and local conservation. Beef is the largest cash crop in Arizona, and yet we send almost all of our beef into the national market. Then we buy beef back from the national market to feed ourselves here — often at higher prices and lower quality. That makes no sense — although of course I understand that is how a commodity market with economies of scale functions — and I became and remain interested in the myriad benefits of connecting local supply to local demand.

On What He Loves to Cook

Risotto is my go-to, and I love Italian food across the board. Simple pasta dishes, the beauty of cooking with a few distinct ingredients… add a straight-up salad, some real bread, a bottle of red and I’m the happiest of campers. Unlike many food lovers, I’m not a great fan of cook books, but Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s Italy” is one they’ll have to pry from cold, dead hands one day. Hey, that could be a bumper sticker!

On The Flavors He Loves

Sweet, savory, whatever… the food experience that I’m drawn to has a name, and it’s called “delicious.” And I’ve found that the ingredients that deliver that experience are pretty consistent: authenticity, simplicity, and the intention and practice of sourcing quality products.

 On Foods He Craves

I was always willing to go far out of my way to eat simple, authentic, traditional fare. When I lived in New York City I would often drive an hour north to Tarrytown to eat at a little Cuban lunch counter by the Tappan Zee Bridge because it was the real deal, superior to any Cuban food I’ve had in Miami or anywhere else. Now that I’m driving back and forth between Tucson and Flagstaff all the time I find myself stopping at Chris Bianco’s Italian Restaurant in Phoenix for similar reasons. The simplicity and the purity of intention of serving very traditional dishes with carefully sourced products… man, that “restores” me every time.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in India and to have been introduced to Indian versions of that kind of authentic, traditional experience, and so I’m always on the lookout for great Indian food. Paul Moir (Proper Tucson) and I have had the Biryani at Sher-e-Punjab so many times, the guy there just gives us a nod and brings out “the usual.” And this new Indian market on Stone, Yogi, which serves Indian street foods like bhel poori and samosa chaat, is very exciting. There’s a place like that in Berkeley, Vik’s Chaat Corner, that draws people from miles around (and that I will find my way to if I’m anywhere close to the Bay Area) in the same kind of market/lunch counter setting, so I have very high hopes for that place.

 On His Food Philosophy

I’ve been fortunate to travel a fair bit, and once I discovered “taste of place” – the experience of having something that is specific and distinct to that particular corner of the world – well… it’s hard to go back to mass-produced, uniform, same-here-as-it-is-everywhere food.  And the thing about “taste of place” is that it doesn’t have to be expensive or exclusive, as the great taco places of South Tucson prove day in and day out.

My intention, with Diablo Burger and Good Oak Bar, is to deliver  “taste of place” here in Tucson, in much the same way that I seek out when I travel. Whether in a burger, a glass of wine, or even in the local ketchup we are serving now, for someone to taste these products that are specific and distinct to our food-shed, right here in Arizona… I believe that creates connection, and community, and a greater appreciation for the farmers and ranchers and other producers right here in our little corner of the world, who contribute in truly immeasurable and irreplaceable ways to our quality of life — and who help us deliver “delicious,” I hope, one meal and one visitor at a time.

Category: FOOD & DRINK