Sunset on Camelback Mountain is a sight to behold, a little treat I personally appreciate at the end of every day as a Phoenician. Now imagine those cotton-candy skies over Camelback Mountain as your backdrop while you indulge in one-of-a-kind dishes crafted by six award-winning chefs while sipping on Arizona wines. Such state of bliss was realized at the Desert to Dish event last weekend in Scottsdale.
The Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia was the setting of the inaugural “Desert to Dish” Culinary Weekend, hosted by Montelucia’s executive chef Michael Cairns. Events through the weekend for guests included farm-to-table dining experiences, exclusive tours of the many Arizona farms, and opportunities to interact with the six renowned chefs. Through the farm excursions, the chefs learned about traditional and innovative farming practices here in the Sonoran Desert, and from these farms the chefs sourced many of their ingredients for their dishes featured throughout the weekend. Along with Chef Cairns, the following five visiting chefs for this year’s event were:
- Chef Brandon Foster of Vesta Dipping Grill in Denver, CO.
- Chef Joe Magnanelli of Cucina Urbana in San Diego, CA.
- Chef Joey Beato of Community Tavern in Chicago, IL.
- Chef Jason Porter of Seven Glaciers in Girdwood, AK.
- Chef Brian Luscher of The Grape Restaurant and Luscher’s Red Hots, both in Dallas, TX.
The grand finale to close the weekend was the Sonoran Showdown, a friendly competition between the visiting chefs, which I was fortunate enough to attend on behalf of Arizona Foodie. Chefs first showcased their expertise through individual competition by creating two appetizers for guests to sample before dinner. When we walked in, three stations were set up on either side of the lawn, with each master chef plating their beautiful creations. With a glass of Sonoita red wine in hand we made our way to each table, savoring the different small plates from each chef. One of the dishes that stood out to me was the charred Mediterranean octopus with dehydrated tomato vinaigrette, ceci bean purée, and garnished with a crisp fingerling potato from Chef Magnanelli. The octopus was cooked to be just tender, and the vinaigrette and the crispy potato chip highlighted a tangy flavor and balance of texture, respectively.
Here are some of the other beautiful small plates served that evening:
Then in an Iron Chef-style final challenge, chefs were divided into the Red Team and Blue Team to create original entrées with ingredients from the farm tours. While each team was preparing their entrées, the audience enjoyed a thoughtfully curated farm-to-table meal, family-style at the table. With over 12 items on the menu, not including the challenge dishes, I knew very well that I had to manage my portions if I wanted to try everything. From the Rousseau Farms Tuscan kale salad to the Hayden Mills Polenta to the Sphinx Date bacon wrapped dates stuffed with chocolate, I was thoroughly impressed with every locally sourced dish. How I wish I could have taken a little bit of everything home with me!
Now, the winners of the showdown were determined through audience voting. Throughout the evening, guests could vote for their favorite chefs and dishes with purchased raffle tickets and red and blue forks. Then the proceeds from this event went towards The James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program. The final entrées were a seared salmon with shrimp and cauliflower from the Red Team and a juicy steak from the Blue Team, which was the winning dish for the evening.
Overall, this event was not only a culinary experience but also an education. I learned how widespread and diverse the Arizona agriculture industry is, with over 20,000 farms in our state. I felt privileged to have met these renowned chefs as well as shared a meal and conversation with Wendell and Rhonda Crow of Crow’s Dairy. It was an honor to see this much culinary talent in an intimate setting, amongst people who appreciate fine cuisine and support our local agriculture industry. I hope this Desert to Dish event is the start of an annual tradition here in Arizona.
For additional information, please visit: http://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/scottsdale-montelucia/dining/desert-to-dish