Arizona on a Plate: Chef Tracy Dempsey Cooks Seacat Spicy Cool Carrots
As photographer Debby Wolvos has traveled the state, she’s had the privilege of meeting and getting to know the people behind our local food community—be they farmers, ranchers, bakers, artisan food producers or chefs. This photo series explores the relationships, inspirations and ingredients behind her favorite dishes.
The second entry in this two-year photojournalism series features Chef Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals in Tempe. Her dish is Spicy Cool Carrots from Arizona produce grower Carl Seacat, of Seacat Gardens. Debby Wolvos recently caught up with the duo in Tempe, at one of a dozen locations where Carl grows his phenomenal produce. Dempsey makes her inspired confections using local, seasonal ingredients and sells them at her Tempe bakery, and at local restaurants. She got her start in the baking world with her Kenner Easy Bake oven (which she still owns)! She has worked for Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn, Gregory’s World Bistro and Cowboy Ciao, and has teamed up with chefs Pat Christofolo, Bernie Kantak, Nobuo Fukuda and Gio Osso, to name a few.
DEBBY WOLVOS: When did you meet Carl Seacat?
TRACY DEMPSEY: I first met Carl at Digestif, where I was the pastry chef in 2008. He was delivering his beautiful tomatoes. We became friends. After I started my own business, I did cooking demos at the Old Town Scottsdale Farmers’ Market, using produce from the vendors there, including Carl’s. I used his beets to make marshmallows that we sampled to shoppers at his booth.
Our inaugural “From Dirt to Dessert” collaboration was at the farmers’ market, where I made sorbets with his melons. Carl’s produce is simply amazing. He hand weeds and babies his plants, and it shows. I am especially partial to his tomatoes, spinach, melons and lettuces. Last year we sold his heirloom tomatoes as a CSA item. I mean, you haven’t had a BLT like the ones we had in ages. His tomatoes remind me of how the ones my grandmother grew tasted—bursts of sunshine and sweetness in every bite. The way summer should taste.
Each year our collaboration “From Dirt to Dessert” takes on a life of its own. Carl grows in Northern Arizona, and he even grows his beautiful Popeye spinach and arugula through the winter snow in Paulden, AZ! This year we plan to have fresh produce (and in dessert form) available to the public through my bakery storefront. One might see Charentais melon sorbet or carrot panna cotta. I’m looking forward to those incredible tomatoes, of course.
DW: Your featured carrot dish looks mouthwatering.
TD: The carrot dish is inspired by my love of simple roasted vegetables and the North African hot chili condiment harissa. My first experience with harissa was when I lived in France and became friends with several Tunisians, who introduced me to it. I learned to make it and it’s something I enjoy sharing. Carrots are a natural pairing. Carl’s “teenage carrots” (not really babies and not totally full grown) are perfect for a quick roasting in the oven. You can really taste the earthiness in Carl’s carrots. The contrast of the carrots against the spinach is fabulously vibrant.
People think of me only as a pastry chef, but I can do savory too.
Debby Wolvos has had a lifelong love affair with the world of food, chefs and photography. Her passion is photographing food culture and traveling globally to explore and document authentic cuisines.