Speakers & Presenters
Via National Geographic — Rodrigo A. Medellín is Senior Professor of Ecology at the Institute of Ecology, University of Mexico known for his work in the field of bat conservation, jaguars, bighorn sheep, and ocelot, among others. . He has worked on the ecology and conservation in Mexico and elsewhere for over 40 years, and has authored over 190 publications. Medellíin uses a multidisciplinary approach, from behavioral ecology and conservation biology to applied genetics, with an eye towards policy applications.
Via The Canelo Chronicles — Roberto Contreras, creator of Rancho Tepua Bacanora, has worked in conjunction with the Institute for Research in Food and Development in Hermosillo, capital of the state of Sonora. Together, they have worked to create a high quality bacanora, the process of which can be of benefit to other individual makers or aspiring producers. Conscious of the over-harvesting of wild agaves, Roberto has begun a program of breeding the agaves he will need for the future.
Via The Modern Mixologist — Tony Abou-Ganim is widely regarded as one of the pioneering and leading bar professionals in the world. Abou-Ganim is the author of The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails (Agate, 2010) which offers readers an in-depth look into spirits and ingredients available to today’s mixologist, both professional and amateur alike. As one of the National Ambassadors of the U.S. Bartenders Guild and Associate Member of the Museum of the American Cocktail, Abou-Ganim continues to educate about the history and lore of cocktails.
Via Tales of the Cocktail — “Whatever you think you know about mezcal, Lou and his non-profit SACRED (Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education & Development) will teach you more, giving greater insight into the individuals and communities that produce the mezcal we enjoy, and using the proceeds to build libraries, agave nurseries and water treatment facilities in rural Mexico," said Philip Duff, Director of Education at Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. "Also, and not unimportantly, Lou’s mezcal seminars blow the doors off, every time, and we cannot think of a worthier recipient for the 2018 Golden Spirit Award.”
Via For Tequila Lovers — David has had a life long affair with Tequila. He is the first native Mexican who, after migrating to the U.S. in 1985, returned to his homeland of Guadalajara to produce his own Tequila, Siembra Azul. This premium small batch Tequila is the result of Suro-Piñera's twenty year personal endeavor to produce the highest quality tequila from the very best agave fields.
Via Tucson Foodie — Austin chef Kevin Fink is one of the biggest names in the culinary industry out of Tucson. The former chef and director of operations at Zona 78 staged at Noma and worked front of house at French Laundry before opening his Austin restaurant Emmer & Rye in 2015. Soon after, Food & Wine magazine named Fink one of the country’s best new chefs. Next, Bon Appétit Magazine nominated Emmer & Rye one of America’s Best New Restaurants in 2016.
Via Pizzeria Bianco — When Chris Bianco started Pizzeria Bianco inside the back corner of a neighborhood grocery store in 1988, little did he know that he would be such a driving force in the slow food movement and specifically the artisanal pizza front. Chris, who won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2003, helped spawn a generation of independent and artisanal pizzerias, lending his advice, wisdom and food philosophies to dozens of fellow chefs and restaurateurs.
From 2008-2014, Elizabeth served as a Latin Cuisines Specialist/Chef Instructor of The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio. In December 2014, Elizabeth founded Pharm Table, a synonym for culinary medicine. It redefines health food and promotes anti-inflammatory cooking. Elizabeth utilizes her background in world cuisines as well as her understanding of plants and herbs and their anti-inflammatory effects.
Via FestForums — Barbara Fairchild is a freelance food and travel writer, editor, public speaker, radio personality, and consultant. Ms. Fairchild was for ten years the editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit magazine, based in Los Angeles. She stepped down in January 2011 when the magazine was relocated to New York City. A prominent leader in the epicurean world, Ms. Fairchild was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage” in May 2000.
Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, agrarian activist and ethnobiologist who tangibly works on conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. For such work, Nabhan has been honored as a pioneer and creative force in the “local food movement” and seed saving community by Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, New York Times, Bioneers, and Time magazine.
Tony Burgess created an eclectic, picaresque career steered by his naturalist appreciation of drylands. He left his Fort Worth home for college in Tucson. While completing a Masters in Botany at Texas Tech University, he studied hybridization in Agave, surveyed the flora of the Guadalupe Mountains, traveled extensively in the Chihuahuan Desert. Still entranced by Tucson’s charms, he returned in 1977 to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology. His Ph.D. dissertation described Agave leaf features associated with climate in the Vizcaíno region of Baja California. Tony retired from teaching in 2013, and is learning to live in the boreal forest at Homer, Alaska, where he is a partner in Blood, Sweat, and Food Farms.
Suzanne K. Fish (Ph.D., University of Arizona, Arid Lands Resource Sciences) is Curator Emerita of Archaeology, Arizona State Museum and Professor Emerita, School of Anthropology, at the University of Arizona. She specializes in Hohokam archaeology, the organization in non-state, regional settlement patterns, and the past and present ethnobotany and traditional agricultural of the Sonoran Desert.
Paul R. Fish (Ph.D. Arizona State University, Anthropology) is Curator Emeritus of Archaeology, Arizona State Museum and Professor Emeritus, School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. He has studied the Hohokam tradition for over 30 years and is an author of over 100 publications on the prehispanic archaeology and traditional agriculture of the region.
Jesús García was born and raised in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. Since 1991, he has been associated with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where he is a Research Associate, teaching natural history and cultural programs throughout southern Arizona and northern Sonora. He holds a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Cultural Anthropology. He has been Director of the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project for over ten years and his many interests include conservation biology, art, cultural ecology, language, music and gardening.
Brian Smith, Executive Chef at Maynards Kitchen, has been instrumental in creating a fresh approach to the menu and vibe of this award-winning downtown restaurant. With a vision to create a true garden to table experience, Chef Brian worked with a local farmer to manifest the abundant Maynards Garden and Grove. With a passion for local foods and continued knowledge, Brian is making a name for himself in the downtown Tucson culinary world by applying a modern twist to seasonal plates.
Via Drylands Farming Company — Doug became interested in Agaves and Prickly Pears many years ago but became more intrigued in recent years as the California drought has persisted, populations have grown, and the need for new agricultural practices became more apparent. Lover of fine tequila and mescal and formulator of a rainbow assortment of Prickly Pear margaritas added to Doug's incentive to see California distilled Agave spirits from California grown plants.
James Beard award winning Chef Janos Wilder is the founder and Executive Chef of DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails in Tucson. Set in an airy, art-filled urban space DTKC is a bustling favorite for happy hour, dinner and late night. His network of local gardeners and farmers continues to provide him with seasonally changing produce. His latest project, The Carriage House Event Space and Cooking School is the fulfillment of a dream Janos and his wife Rebecca have had since they opened DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails in 2010.
Doug Smith is an Arizona native and owns Exo Roast Co. in Tucson. His Ph.D. research in cultural anthropology examined agricultural history in several Mexican states. Exo’s mezcalería not only connects guests to the spirit itself but educates them on the cultural matrix and production methods of mezcal. Research trips to Sonora, Chihuahua, and Oaxaca keep Doug in contact with mezcaleros and sotoleros and allow him to explore agave’s potential in ecological and economic regeneration. He sits on the Board of Directors of Native Seeds/SEARCH and Borderlands Restoration Network.
Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. My life has been a spicy pozole of all things from the borderlands region revolving around a non profit organization called The Canelo Project of which my wife and I are the primary directors. It is dedicated to Connecting People, Culture and Nature. Through The Canelo Project, my wife and I have built and taught throughout the United States, Mexico and much of Europe. In addition, we have created installations at art museums around the country. Ethnobotany and Sustainable Agriculture are parallel areas of focus and interest. I love sharing tales and imagery from the U.S./Mexican border region, researching and sharing local food, promoting music and folkloric dance. I have known, worked with, and continue to study the work of Bacanora and Lechugilla makers in Sonora since the late 1980s.
Via The Chronicle UA — Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona Ernesto “Neto” Portillo Jr. is a proud Tucsonan. He is a columnist for The Arizona Daily Star and also works for La Estrella. While Neto was a student at the University of Arizona, he traveled to Mexico and Central America. Neto graduated with a major in Latin American Studies, but developed a passion for journalism.
Juan Olmedo, is a farmer and an agroecologist. He has studied and worked on farms in France, the UK, Norway, and in Venezuela. In his home country, Mexico, Juan has done research on native maize varieties and seeds in X-Pichil, a Mayan community in the Yucatán Peninsula. Currently, he is working on the cultivation and protection of native varieties of Agave of the central highlands of Mexico. His main interest is the use of native genetic resources and techniques in agricultural management of marginal lands. He strongly believes that these ancestral cultivars and farming systems will prove central in addressing food production issues in the face of climate change.
Greg was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, and has grown to love the desert and its flora and fauna. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture, and after working in the landscape industry he went back to the University to study Botany and further his education in horticulture. He opened Starr Nursery in the summer of 1985, and has specialized in low water use plants for landscaping in southern Arizona. Greg has traveled extensively in Mexico and the southwestern United States to study the plants for their potential landscape use in desert regions of the world. He has also traveled to South Africa and recently to Madagascar in search of juicy succulents.
Via Borderlands Restoration Network — Francesca started working with native plants at the UC Davis Arboretum while in college and after graduating with degrees in Native American Studies and International Agricultural Development continued as a manager, assisting with propagation research and organizing plant sales. In 2013 she moved to Patagonia for an internship with Native Seeds/SEARCH and shortly after started managing the nursery for Borderlands Restoration. Francesca is passionate about increasing accessibility and enthusiasm for native plants, and promoting partnerships between nurseries and plant programs on both sides of the border. She serves on boards of the Patagonia Regional Times, the Sweetwater Center in Cascabel, AZ and the Arizona Native Plant Society.
Aaron Grafe (CSW, Certified Cicerone) is an Arizona native, having moved to Tucson in 2003 to attend the University of Arizona. He graduated with a degree in German Studies and American Indian Studies, and logically got a job in the alcohol industry. During years of indoctrination in the bar and restaurant world, he discovered a deep love for all things fermented and distilled, culminating years later in an obsession with all things agave. This thirst for artisanal and hand-crafted beverage alcohol brought him ultimately to the alcohol distribution realm, where he currently works as a craft spirits specialist for Young’s Market Co. Having traveled throughout Jalisco, Puebla and Oaxaca, touring 20 distilleries/palenques, he was ultimately driven down the rabbit hole of agave distillates to the point of no return.
Via Desert Botanical Garden — I have lived in and loved the Sonoran Desert for more than 40 years. My areas of interest include Southwest US and northern Mexico floristics, rare and endemic plants, and taxonomy and systematics of Agave and Yucca, including the study of pre-Columbian agave cultivars. Other current projects include the study and documentation of the flora of the Grand Canyon region, including the evolution and distribution of certain plant groups as affected by the unique factors characteristic of this area. I am also studying and documenting Southwest US cacti, coordinator for the Cactus family treatment for Intermountain Flora and co-coordinator for the Cactus Family of Arizona project by Garden research staff and research associates. I am an avid plant collector who strives towards making high quality specimens in difficult groups like Agavaceae and Cactaceae.
Via Dos Volcanes — Craig Reynolds began in 2006 by growing agaves in Colima, Mexico and bringing the brand Dos Volcanes to the U.S. His love of agave quickly turned to growing agaves near his home in Northern California and the goal of birthing a California agave spirits industry north of the border. He calls his project “Mezcalifornia” and has teamed up with a premier craft distiller to produce a unique agave spirit, combining traditional pit roasting with modern distillation methods. Craig is working with growers, craft distillers, retailers, academics, and consumers to further investment and innovation to lay the foundation for this promising new industry.
Judah Kuper fell in love with his nurse while getting treated for a surfing injury on an island in rural Oaxaca. He married into a family who has been producing Mezcal for as many generations as they can remember. Together they started Mezcal Vago and have worked to grow the category worldwide.
Jason Wiley joined the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in May of 2014 as a horticulturist. He was raised in eastern Colorado and grew up on a sod farm, so his interest in plants started early in life. He received his B.S. in Urban Horticulture from Arizona State University in 2007. His career includes positions at the Phoenix Zoo caring for the “Harmony Farm,” as the Lead Horticulturist and Landscape Designer for the Budweiser Tour Center and employment for a high-end horticulture services company, both in Fort Collins, Colorado. Jason relocated to Tucson in 2014 to join the staff at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and currently manages the Agave Garden and Cactus Garden.
Via Voyage Phoenix — “I create work in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional mediums. I work in watercolor, micron pens, acrylic metallics and organic stains. I enjoy the contrasting variations of mediums on cotton watercolor paper. Along with selling my original pieces, I offer my artwork in other mediums such as giclée prints, stickers, temporary tattoos, postcards and greeting cards. In addition to my paintings and illustrations, I also love making ceramics. Most of my work is created with terra cotta stoneware and earthenware.”
Via Carrie Mae — Carrie Mae Rose is currently focusing on building wings out of collected and found agave leaves. She believes we humans are 1/2 animal and 1/2 angel. The wings represent a personal healing transformation of our more spiritual parts, a release and expansion beyond trauma, fear and protection. Rose began working with the Arizona desert-grown agave plant in the 2000 while living in Prescott.
Don Guerra of Barrio Bread is a skilled artisan baker and forward thinking entrepreneur who has worked diligently to develop Barrio Bread, a true neighborhood bakery that showcases the art and science of Don’s passion for baking and his commitment to community. The bakery is dedicated to exceptional quality ARTisan bread, created with centuries-old baking techniques and locally grown heritage grains. Don also works to promote the local food movement, and showcase heritage grains.
Robert is a proud Tucsonan deeply in love with the Sonoran region. He has been studying, exploring, and documenting the region's biological and cultural diversity (often with violin in tow) most of his 32 years. He considers himself a third-generation follower in the footsteps of botanist Howard Scott Gentry, the father of, and still the greatest authority on, Agave study. Finally, Robert is a mezcal disciple. He believes that to drink mezcal is to imbibe the highest expression of Mexican terroir. Indeed, our distinctly Sonoran bacanora and lechuguilla may be considered a love letter to the land where north and south embrace.
Dr. Jonathan Mabry is Director of Community Engagement for the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Arizona. He received his doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. His archaeological investigations have documented new information about the transition to agriculture and development of irrigation in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands during prehistory. He was an early leader in the local and heritage foods movements in southern Arizona, and was co-author with Gary Nabhan and others on the application that obtained designation of Tucson as the first UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in the U.S. He serves as the President of the community-based non-profit organization managing the designation.
Via Spirits of Mexico — Master Mezcalier Khrys Maxwell is a driving force and personality in the world of agave. His work with Fortaleza Tequila has led him to become one of the foremost authorities on agave in the industry. Also an avid educator of industry professionals in Jalisco and Oaxaca, Khrys has traveled to over 50 distilleries studying all aspects of agave production and flavor. His efforts in education and agave advocacy were awarded in 2012 with a DISTINTIVO T by the CRT. Khrys continues to travel the world discussing the emerging agave categories and preservation of this threatened raw material. He remains at the forefront of the agave narrative as an educator and public personality.
Ben Wilder’s research is broadly focused in desert ecology and botany. He is the acting director of the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill. Wilder also works with Dr. Christopher Scott in the administration of CAZMEX, the Consortium for Arizona-Mexico Arid Environments. Wilder values the incorporation of diverse perspectives and the powerful results made possible via collaboration. In his role as director of the Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers, he strives to create opportunities for collaboration across borders and disciplines and a more holistic understanding and appreciation for the Sonoran Desert.
Via 3 Story Media — David Clark has been the lead mixologist at Hotel Congress for over 10 years. He loves it when his customers say, “Make me something.” Like many bartenders, he loves to get to know and be tested by his customers. “I enjoy making things based on what people like,” he says.
Via City of San Antonio — Colleen Swain was appointed Director of San Antonio’s World Heritage Office on April 1, 2016. As visitation increases as a result of the UNESCO World Heritage Designation to our five Spanish colonial Missions, Ms. Swain is responsible for the overall leadership of the World Heritage Office, as well as promoting the Missions through the implementation of the World Heritage Work Plan, a dynamic document that sets short- and long-term goals and is a direct result of community input.
Via Visit Tucson — Tucson-based beekeeper Noel Patterson runs Dos Manos Apiary. Three years ago, Miraval Resort and Spa brought Patterson in to start an apiary. Currently, 60 beehives are hosted on the property, at the site of an old dude ranch, and resort guests can take classes from Patterson both in the apiary — learning about bees and the production of honey — and in the dining area — tasting honeys from around the world.
Dan is the Director of Bat Conservation International’s Habitat Conservation & Restoration Program and oversees BCI’s new Bats and Agave Restoration Initiative. Dan has more than 30 years of experience working on wildlife and conservation in the U.S., Central America, and Africa and has been with BCI for 20 years, the last 15 focusing on bats and water, rangeland, and forest conservation in the Southwest. Dan was formerly a Forest Service biologist in Arizona, Oregon, and Montana and served as the first director of the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize. He holds a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana and a Master’s of Science in Forestry from Northern Arizona University, where he studied bats and seed dispersal in the rainforest canopy of West Africa.
Founder and Director of rezpiral, artisanal mezcal import project that realizes an agave nursery and profit share practice. Alex started rezpiral as a means of creating marketplace inclusion for independent artisans and their traditional spirits traditionally excluded. The project also strives to give importance to economic redistribution, transparency and ecological responsibility in international trade.