Chef de Tucson: Marianne Banes, pastry chef at Kingfisher


Time spent in the kitchen is one big science experiment for Marianne Banes, the corporate pastry chef at Kingfisher.

After 40 years spent cooking professionally in restaurants in Tucson and California, Banes learns as much — or maybe more — from her baking mistakes as she does from a soufflé that emerges perfectly puffed from the oven.

“The precision and the chemistry and the science of baking fascinates me,” she said. “If you didn’t season your soup enough, you have a little leeway. If you didn’t cook your meat long enough, you have a little leeway. You don’t have that in baking. If you put something in the oven and leave out an ingredient, you are done.”

Baking blunders are all part of the learning process.

“Stuff will happen. Caramel will burn, cakes will fall and you figure out why. It’s kind of like being a detective. ‘OK, the cake didn’t rise. What could have gone wrong?’ You go through the recipe one item at a time until you figure it out,” Banes said. “Set yourself up for success and then make mistakes. You really do, in baking, learn from your mistakes.”

How did you get interested in cooking? Baking in particular?

“I always have loved to cook and bake. When I was a little girl I used to love to make the cupcake recipes in “Joy of Cooking.” My mother could not bake, but my grandmother had a cook who loved to bake. My father was a wonderful cook and a pretty good baker. Then I started cooking on my own. I started cooking in Girl Scouts when we went on campouts. I was in charge of pancakes. Whenever they asked who wanted to cook, I was like, ‘Me, me, me.’ I would rather cook than put up the tents or whatever Girl Scouts do.

“When I was in college I started working in a bookstore and I started reading cookbooks and cooking magazines and cooking for my roommates and baking. I still remember this one batch of whole wheat bread that came out as a brick. It was hard and nobody would eat it. Our house was the place where everyone wanted to come on the weekends because we were always cooking.

“I was studying anthropology (at the University of Arizona) and all of the sudden, the same passion I felt for dinosaur bones I felt for cooking. So I was trying to figure out how I afford to go to culinary school. I was a junior in college and really frustrated with the department of anthropology because (President) Reagan had axed all the funding for big archaeology digs in the country. In the department of anthropology, you could design your own minor and I got this idea. I wanted to open my own restaurant, so I designed a business minor with that in mind.”

What is one skill every baker should know?

“How to measure properly and the difference between dry measures and liquid measures.

“And, read books — cooking books, anything you can get your hands on. “Joy of Cooking” is a fabulous reference, Julia Child, the old James Beard cookbooks, Jacques Pépin — those were not just recipe books, they were books on how to cook. A lot of cookbooks don’t really tell you why you are doing what you are doing. If you want to be a better home cook or a better baker there are wonderful books out there. Shirley Corriher has wonderful books, “CookWise (The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking)” and “BakeWise (The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking).”

“And then there’s Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking.” He was the first one to come out with a book on the science of cooking. There are no recipes in that book. It is all about the science of cooking and baking.”

What is your favorite dessert to make?

“I love making custards. I like crème brûlée. A lot of things are custards that people don’t realize are custards, like cheesecake is custard. I love the science of custard and how eggs work. I also love to make caramel. It’s sugar and water and then you add cream or butter or cream and butter or cream and butter and booze depending on what you want to do at the end. And anything chocolate. That’s probably my favorite thing to do, anything chocolate, but scientifically custard and caramel.”

Kimberly Matas is a Tucson-based freelance writer. Contact her at

dennis fesenmyer