Podcast: Chef Tamara Stanger – Helio Basin Brewing Company
The first time I went to Helio Basin Brewing Company in Phoenix I was super pumped to try out the beer at this new brewery. A friend had told me that while I wasn’t going to find anything crazy like a rum barrel aged buffelgrass sour stout the beers at this joint were very clean and spot on with what you would expect from the specific style. I ordered a flight and it was served on a beautifully handcrafted wooden flight board cut into the shape of the state of Arizona. The beers? Fantastic! Like my friend said, nothing whacky but damn they were phenomenal!
Now came the time to order food. There wasn’t a huge selection but to me that’s a plus. When I get an 8 page menu with 12 different categories I get overwhelmed and panic. Then I spend the rest of the day wishing I had ordered the Reuben (side note: I have NEVER regretted ANYTHING I ordered at Helio Basin). Anyhow, I scanned this finely curated menu filled with many ingredients I’ve never heard of so I asked the server what he recommended and he emphatically said “everything….seriously”. With that I went with my gut (no pun intended) and ordered the coffee-rubbed tri-tip tacos. Soon our food was delivered to the table by someone other than our server. We thanked her and before the first bite our server rushed over and was like “Ok, thats a big deal. That was chef Tammy. She is like a black jaguar; rarely seen. You guys are special”. I thought “cool” but my attention was back on my food and with that first bite I found out why that was such a big deal. HOLY. SHIT. Best taco I had ever tasted. Hands down. And the feeling was mutual across our table. Looks of confused ecstasy painted everyone’s face.
“What the hell are we eating?!?”
“Who did this?!?!”
“Where are we?!?!”
We all questioned every place where we had eaten up to this point and agreed that it was all a waste of time and money. THIS is where is was at. We were so impressed we asked the server to have the chef come back out so we could tell her how impressed we were. I had never done that before and have not since. Seriously, if you have not eaten at Helio Basin you need to cancel any plans you have for the rest of the day, fake a sick day, leave work and get there right now. For real. I mean, smoked rainbow trout tacos? Smoked rabbit pasta? Crawfish Moqueca with fire-roasted cebollitas, baby nopales, and the option to add wild boar tasso? Yes, these are all real words. But that leads me to my first point. Chef Tammy uses ingredients that I have never seen used before. She works hard to revive ingredients rarely used and that truly reflect the taste of Arizona. Not taste imported from Mexico or New Mexico or Chicago. Authentic Arizona taste.
The second aspect that really puts Chef Tammy on a pedestal for me is her focus on how beer can really bring out the flavors in food and vice versa. She is such a firm believer of this that everything on the menu at Helio Basin has a beer pairing suggestion. Hell, they even do a beer/ice cream pairing. I’m at the point now where if I go and Tammy is there I don’t even look at the menu. I just tell her to bring me whatever she wants because I know its going to be killer.
In the latest episode of Tap That AZ Podcast I finally get to sit down with Tamara to talk about the amazing food she rocks out of that kitchen. I am a huge fan of her food and an even bigger fan of her as a person. In this interview you’ll see why. Enjoy the show!
Listen to the podcast on your favorite podcast app, by listening to the file at the top of this article or by going to the Tap That AZ Podcast website