Phoenix Arizona is a desert, but fortunately not a culinary one. There is no shortage of good restaurants in the Phoenix area – certainly enough to bring fifty professional chefs together on a beautify sunny Saturday afternoon and show off their talents.
Take a look at the photo and you can see why I live in Phoenix: It was a beautiful spring day with temperatures in the seventies. The sunshine was warm, the breeze was cool, the food was interesting, and the jazz band was good.
For me, this event was about two things: The Eating, and The Cooking.
I was able to sample the creations of the chefs of the some of the valley’s finest resorts and restaurants. Michael Cairns from the Arizona Biltmore was there. Paul Carter from The Phoenician was there. It also gave me a chance to learn a few tips and tricks. I sampled Different Pointe of View’s lobster bisque and remarked that it’s texture was interesting and seemed different, kind of buttery. Chef Cory Oppold replied that the butter they use is European butter with a higher butterfat content. That's something to tuck away in my brain for future use.
Personally, when I look for restaurants, I’m not looking for well-known big-name marquee spots. I really delight in discovering those out-of-the-way little places where the food is great and the staff is genuine, and I discovered one. One of the tents at West of Western Culinary Festival was occupied by Chef Gregory LaPrad of Quiessence, who tries to use locally grown and organic products in his dishes whenever possible. In fact, Gregory impressed me so much that my wife and I actually visited Quiessence later that evening for dinner. I’ll write more in another post, but Quiessence is a great little restaurant tucked away in the back of The Farm At South Mountain in an old farmhouse. The food was great (The meat on my lamb shank was so tender it fell off the bone.) and the staff was warm and friendly (I hate stuffy waiters and waitresses.)
The Fumbing Foodie is about learning to cook, and so my main reason for attending was to learn ideas and techniques to help me turn out more memorable dishes. I learned of a growing, thriving farmer’s market in downtown Phoenix where I can buy local produce. Everything offered for sale at the Market is grown or made by the person selling it.
I discovered Slow Food USA and it’s Phoenix chapter. Slow Food USA is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to supporting and celebrating the food traditions of the many cultures living in the United States. Slow Food was founded in response to the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome’s historic Piazza di Spagna. I can relate to that. I remember being in a large shopping mall in Paris a number of years ago. It was lunchtime. The McDonald’s was mobbed. Right next door was a little shop selling sandwiches served on fresh croissants, and it was almost empty.
Slow Food Phoenix has an interesting monthly event called Simple Soup Supper for members and prospective members, and I think I’ll attend the next one and see what it’s all about.
The local Tohono O’odham Indian tribe was at West of Western. TOCA is trying to preserve the traditional O’odham food system. Until 1960, diabetes was unknown among the Tohono O’odham. Today the O’odham have the highest rate of adult-onset diabetes in the world. The cause for this devastating change is the destruction of the traditional O’odham food systems and diet.
Several scientific studies have confirmed that traditional O’odham foods - including tepary beans, mesquite beans, cholla (cactus) buds and chia seeds - help regulate blood sugar and significantly reduce the effects of diabetes. I picked up a 2-pound bag of brown Tepary beans along with some recipes.
I also met three wonderful cookbook authors. Gwen Ashley Walters was there with her cookbooks, The Great Ranch Cookbook, The Cool Mountain Cookbook, and Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook. I think I mentioned Sharon O’Connor’s Menus and Music series in another post. Well, Gwen has been doing the same thing long before Sharon O’Connor. With recipes like Wild Mushroom and Corn Pancakes, Chestnut Gnocchi, and Green Onion Spaetzle, I could not pass up The Cool Mountain Cookbook. I will post more about this cookbook after I’ve had a chance to try some of the recipes.
Barbara Pool Fenzi was there with her Seasonal Southwest Cooking: Contemporary Recipes & Menues for Every Occasion. This is a cookbook that is so beautiful that it deserves a place on my coffee table. More later when I’ve had a chance to try some of the recipes.
Janos Wilder, Chef and Owner of Janos restaurant in Tucson was there with Recipes & Tales from a Southwest Restaurant. I bought this one too because – unlike recipe books from some other chefs – Janos seems to make the recipes easy to prepare and uses ingredients available to us mere mortals, and he takes pains to explain everything well. One thing I found interesting: While most books put the recipes for the sauces in thw back of the book, Janos puts them right at the front, perhaps an indication of their importance in his mind? I think this one is really going to help my presentation skills.
I also discovered a local Foodie magazine, Edible Phoenix that I didn’t even know existed.