As a nine-year-old boy, Angelo Sosa remembers opening the door to his aunt Carmen’s apartment in Brooklyn. His brothers and sisters ran off, but Sosa never joined them. Growing up, he didn’t play wiffle ball or kickball with the other kids. Instead, he woke up at 4:30 am to be ready in the garden to till and harvest vegetables and fruits for his family.
And when he wasn’t in the garden, he was aware of the smells in the kitchen, especially at his aunt Carmen’s house. The aromas of bay leaf and coriander were powerful and enticing for the future chef. He remembers sitting on a bar stool while he watched his aunt Carmen cook.
“At that moment, I knew that if this is what love is like, then I can do this for the rest of my life,” says Sosa. He would sit, mesmerized by how her aunt transformed the space with her culinary skills.
Tia Carmen, a restaurant that opened last month at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, is Sosa’s tribute to her aunt and her teachings on how cooking has the power to bring joy, love and comfort.
For Sosa, becoming a chef was very much a conviction.
“I would literally have dreams and visions of food and that’s how I create,” he says. But opening Tía Carmen was not a linear process.
In his youth, Sosa was naturally good at baseball and says that while it potentially could have been a path, he knew internally that he wanted to go in a different direction. At 16, he was working in a retirement home as a waiter.
“I literally begged the chef to let me work in the kitchen to the point of sheer annoyance,” says Sosa.
The chef finally relented and let Sosa start cooking. During that time, he had trouble sleeping because he would lie awake “imagining what it would feel like to be a chef and run a kitchen.”
He took these visions and spent three years at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York graduating in 1997. During his culinary education, he fell in love with the art of plating.
“A beautiful dish has to have tension,” Sosa says, explaining his mantra, “Simplicity is excellence.”
While developing his own personality as a chef, Sosa wanted to be the best and work with the top culinary giants in the field, he says. Some of this meant sacrifice. When he began training with chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, he traveled at least four hours. But he does not regret any of the effort, rather he remembers that each of the chefs he worked with taught him something.
From Vongerichten, he learned that he must “allow the ingredient to come to life and let it be the narrator.”
His work with renowned chef Alain Ducasse taught him to “be unwavering and uncompromising in working with the right ingredients,” says Sosa.
In an effort to follow that mantra, Sosa met with local farmers, including Ramona Button of Ramona Farms. She introduced him to the local tepary beans that she uses in her mole negro, a dish she honors the Southwest.
Sosa always looks at how her ingredients connect with each other.
“I think each and every dish, whether it’s fries, burgers, hot dogs or foie gras, will have a trinity,” he says, explaining that the trinity can vary and doesn’t necessarily have to follow typical sweet standards. , sour, salty. It can be smoky, earthy, or herbaceous.
“I spent several years studying the connectors that made these euphoric experiences. I would take ingredients that you might not think go well together, but I think all the flavors go together,” Sosa says.
It is a philosophy that he uses in Tía Carmen.
Tía Carmen’s vision reached her periphery about a year and a half ago. During the pandemic, Sosa traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico City, New Mexico, and throughout Arizona.
“There has been a consideration in the planning,” he says. “At the end of the day, I want to be a storyteller for the community, the people, the ranchers, the potters, the artisans — it’s important to me to be the conduit.”
Some of the pottery in the restaurant comes from local supplier Blue Door Ceramics, based in the Cave Creek area. Many of the ingredients on the menu are also local.
“Actions speak louder than words,” says Sosa. “We use local where we can, with our herbs, chiles and citrus.”
The menu features items that commemorate indigenous people and the land with entrees including chorizo ragout with tepary beans, fried native grain rice with linguiça sausage, bacon, serrano pepper, garlic, ginger and a fried egg, as well as a New York Strip of Arizona tribal land grass-fed beef.
Sosa highlights contemporary Southwestern cuisine with dishes like their mesquite-smoked whole chicken and squash blossom soup.
Those who are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free need not worry: the menu includes items like yams, mushroom menudo, street corn, and tostadas.
Complement your entree with popular cocktails like the Yuzu and Bergamot Paloma or the Aguachile margarita.
For Sosa, the restaurant and its food celebrate the Southwest, its people, and her family.
“Everything in life is an energy. Love transcends,” he says. “That’s honoring my Tia. That’s honoring ourselves. That’s honoring the intent of the restaurant.”
5350 East Marriott Drive, Phoenix