Six Questions with Tía Carmen Executive Chef Angelo Sosa

Marilyn HawkesJune 6, 2022
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Accompanied by a lot of local buzz, executive chef Angelo Sosa and restaurant operator Mark Stone opened Tía Carmen at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in May. Sosa, who appeared on three seasons of Top Chef, opened the restaurant in tribute to his aunt, Carmen. The restaurant specializes in contemporary Southwest cuisine with special emphasis on wood-fire grilling. Here’s what Sosa has to say about his new venture.

What does it meant to you to open this restaurant in tribute to your aunt?
It’s very dear to me. My tía was my north star. I grew up in a very hard home with a militant father and came from a strict environment of discipline. … My tía was kindhearted, genuine authentic and humble and was always in service to every person she embraced. She taught me the power of food and that food can really transform pain and turn it into love. Even as a 9-year-old boy, I realized that if this is what love is, this expression through cooking, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to become a chef and I wanted to honor my tía Carmen. I feel very blessed that I’m able to share her story with this community.

Did you collaborate with Arizona farmers and artisans while working on the concept?
Yes, 100 percent. I’ll give you an example. About 45 minutes outside of Tucson, in Benson, we met this magical chicken farmer, Michael, from Top Knot Farms, who has the most incredible chickens that I’ve ever seen or tasted. On our menu, we have a beautiful mesquite smoked chicken and they harvest the chicken literally a day before delivery to the restaurant. My business partner and I traveled through Arizona and throughout the Southwest identifying the farmers and ranchers we wanted to (work with). I want to be the conduit and storyteller of their stories.

Have you been able to incorporate any family recipes?
When you’re eating in the dining room and the food is coming out, whether your eyes are open or closed, I want you to embrace the food to feel like my tía is cooking in the back and you can feel her love and passion. That is an ultimate goal of mine. That being said, one of the dishes we have on the menu, a beautiful signature and representative of her and the Southwest, is our guisado. It’s a stew dish that she cooked for me, but I never had a recipe. I only had a memory of the dish, so I took Southwestern ingredients from chimayo chiles to Hatch chiles to corn and heirloom carrots that are grown here in the state and put them into this dish to showcase the beauty of the Southwest. That’s an example of one dish that I adore.

What is one of your favorite dishes on the menu?
We have amazing vegan and vegetarian dishes and one in particular is made from a local Japanese yam that we grill on our beautiful Santa Maria grill on the charcoals of the mesquite and it emanates this beautiful smoke.  Then, we peel it and serve it with our aged 9-month-old mole that is made with black tepary beans. I stir in a cheese sauce and when you eat it, it’s almost like a tiramisu with multiple layers. I think it’s divine and magical and moving. It’s a really delicious dish.

How did Top Chef affect your culinary status?
I’ve been pretty blessed to work with some exceptional chefs. I worked with Jean Georges for four years in New York City and Alain Ducasse in Paris and I staged all over Spain, so I’ve had a very blessed career. I think Top Chef accentuated my, you know, I guess you could say marketability and allowed me to share “God-given talents” with the viewer. I love being creative and it really supported cooking against some really impeccable chefs on the show. It was stressful and it was hard, but it also taught me how to become a more creative chef working alongside some pretty amazing, creative people.

Anything else you’d like people to know about Tía Carmen?
At the Marriott, we have this gorgeous garden and Tía Carmen has its own farmer that produces 15-20 percent of the product for the restaurant from herbs to chilis to tomatoes to the lettuces. I’m really excited about diving deeper into that. I think that’s something holistically that we take a lot of pride in. The relationship with JW Marriott has been impeccable. It’s been one body and one vision.

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