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Sun, Aug. 18

Great dishes a blend of simple ingredients, great imagination

I've known this guy for a long time. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen together doing dishes and chores while growing up. Today, he is one of the best cooks I know. I'm proud to say he's my little brother, Tom Willcutt.

Personal Background

Tom was born and raised in Arizona and moved to the Northwest 10 years ago with his wife, Jan, and their three children. They have a family owned and operated business. The family spent a year in Mexico, where he stole the locals recipes and learned about their culture.

He is employed as the executive chef of Two Bears Outfitters in Darby, Mont., but due to the current fire situation, he came to the Verde Valley to visit family and cook some great meals.

Favorite Cooking Styles

Southwestern, Mexican, grilling, and smoking by utilizing ingredients that are on hand. He likes to find a pork roast in the freezer, fresh vegetables in the crisper, spices in the cupboard and create dishes that are fun to make and exiting to present. He firmly believes that the presentation of the finished dish is vital to itís success, since you see it before you taste it.

Cooking is an art and a science, but it doesn't have to be complicated. Great dishes can be made with simple ingredients and a little imagination. He's not afraid to try new things. Most of the time they work out.

Influences/Inspiration

He has always enjoyed being in the kitchen creating and cooking but never liked using a cookbook. About four years ago, he and his son, Dallas, started watching Chef Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay on the Food TV Network. He discovered that his cooking style was just like theirs and that you don't have to follow a recipe step-by-step. It's more fun to just start cooking and see what happens — that's what makes a great cook.

Dallas, now 19, was inspired also and may eventually attend a culinary institute for formal training.

Cooking Triumph

Made some awesome bear roast tamales and everyone who ate them survived.

Worst Cooking Nightmare

Having to eat the dishes that don't turn out.

Helpful Hints

As with any meat, and especially fish, when you place it into a hot sauté pan, immediately start moving the pan back and forth on the burner. This prevents the meat from sticking because the surface caramelizes and it enhances the appearance. Don't use a spatula because that will break the meat up.

The simplest and best marinade for fish and meats is orange juice and chopped cilantro. He learned this while living on the Baja peninsula of Mexico from Norberto Camas, the "executive chef" and sole proprietor of Tacos al Carbon, a roadside taco stand. The longer you marinate, the better the flavor. For fish, 24 hours is maximum and beef or poultry can go up to 48 hours.

For an authentic Baja treat, marinate and grill your favorite meat. Slice thinly and serve with Pico de Gallo, Salsa Fruita, tortillas, shredded lettuce and a squeeze of lime. Add some refried beans, rice and quacamole on the side.

A fun and easy way to enhance the appearance of a dish or condiment is to make a tomato rose. Simply peel a tomato by starting at one end and make a continuous circle around the whole tomato. Peel as thinly as possible — you don't want tomato meat. Take the peel and roll it up tightly, shiny side out. The bottom should stay tight and flare at the top.

Simply place on top of finished dish or condiment, such as cream sauce or sour cream. To complete the rose, use a cilantro stem and leaves or any other greens you have on hand.

Another simple idea for garnishing a dish is to sprinkle the finished dish or plate with chopped green onions, different chopped bell peppers, or anything that adds color.

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