Janos Wilder was born February 5, 1954 in Redwood City, California, and raised in East Palo Alto, California. He began cooking as a teenager in a local pizza parlor, and then worked his way up from cook to sous chef and then chef, through restaurants while in college at the University of Colorado and UC Berkeley, where he graduated with a BA in Political Science.
After graduation, he moved to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the late 1970s as a chef at the historic Gold Hill Inn, where he learned about local ingredients from neighborhood gardens, and forged mushrooms and suckling pigs from small farms.
He moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to cook French food at Le Mirage, before traveling to France in 1982. There in Bordeaux, he apprenticed at La Reserve, a Michelin two-star Relais et Chateau, and Le Duberne, a one-star restaurant.
Chef Janos returned to the USA in 1983 and moved to Tucson, near his wife Rebecca’s home, and on Halloween 1983, opened Janos in a landmark adobe home, on the grounds of the Tucson Museum of Art. It was a marriage of French technique and local ingredients of Arizona, i.e., fruit from Prickly Pear cactus, Mesquite flour, blue corn meal and produce and seafood from Mexico. In 1984, it was listed by Playboy Magazine as one of America’s top regional restaurants.
In 1998, Chef Janos moved to a free standing building on the grounds of the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. In 1999, under the same roof, he opened the more casual J Bar, and that’s when Great Chefs showed up. Great Chefs Television was shooting Great Chefs of America and Chef Janos Wilder prepared a Venison Adobado with Native Seeds as an entrée (episode #171).
In 2000 he was named Best Chef of the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation.
In 2002, he opened KAI at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa on the Gila River which was later named the Best Southwest Restaurant by the Arizona Republic. In 2010, Chef Janos Wilder opened the Downtown Kitchen in downtown Tucson.