The three-day culinary extravaganza Desert to Dish culminated in a grand finale Saturday night called the Sonoran Showdown. Arizona purveyors, wine, spirits and craft beers were the star of the night, along with five acclaimed chefs from Alaska, San Diego, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago, and our host Executive Chef Michael Cairns of Omni Scottsdale. Proceeds would benefit the James Beard Foundation's scholarship program and other educational initiatives. The evening began on the Valencia Lawn of the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at the Montelucia. We mingled and strolled with cocktails and Arizona wine as each chef served two appetizers featuring ingredients found on Friday's Farm Excursions. Guests were then led to beautifully-decorated tables topped by lazy susans where we shared a family-style feast of Arizona bounty as we were entertained by the main event - the Sonoran Showdown. The chefs were split into two teams, given a choice of ingredients, and sent to their respective al fresco kitchens to create a signature dish. The votes were then left in the hands of the diners.
Some of the talented chefs: From left to right, Brian Luscher (The Grape Restaurant and Luscher's Red Hots in Dallas), Marcos Seville (Sous Chef at Omni Scottsdale), Brandon Foster (Vesta Dipping Grill in Denver), Jason Porter (Seven Glaciers in Anchorage), Rosa Geremia (Cucina Enoteca in San Diego), and John Wallace (Sous Chef at Vesta Dipping Grill in Denver)
The visiting chefs cheerfully served up their dishes during cocktail hour. They included:
- Chef Luscher's Mexican corn ragout with Arizona Cheese Company Pepper Jack.
- Chef Foster's Meat Shop porchetta sausage with Hope Springs eggplant purée, Blue Sky Farms arugula, and Crow’s Dairy goat cheese.
- Chef Porter's panna cotta with goat cheese and Rousseau Farms corn, Sphinx Ranch date and pistachio gremolata, and True Gardens basil.
- Chef Beato's pork shoulder steak with peach mostarda, brussels sprouts, and habanero jus, and his Abbey Lee Farms tomato and fennel gazpacho with Neals spicy arugula, Arizona Greens radish and shaved zucchini.
- Chef Magnanelli's charred Mediterranean octopus with dehydrated tomato vinaigrette, ceci bean purée, and potato crisps.
There was also Chef Luscher's mushroom and Crow's Dairy goat cheese strudel with blackberry-port conserve and mustard sauce, and Chef Magnanelli's Pork Shop bacon with Crow's Dairy goat cheese and Schnepf Farms zucchini.
Chef Porter's cold smoked and seared halibut with sweet corn sauce and Alaskan salmon roe, and Chef Foster's lobster and chanterelle mushrooms with brioche, Hope Springs Farm arugula, saba, and shaved Pecorino Romano.
Chefs Cairns' Arizona Beef flat iron with Abby Lee heirloom tomato salad, Blue Sky Farms arugula pesto and Sphinx Dates balsamic glaze, along with habanero-brined grilled pork loin with honey-pasilla glaze, hominy and jalapeno bacon cassoulet, and sweet potato straws.
We were invited to take our seats under starry skies for dinner and the main event.
Our dinner menu - a bounty and a feast.
The teams were divided into Red and Blue teams and we were each given a red and blue fork to use for voting. The Red Team was led by emcee and television and radio personality Jan D’Atri, while Chef Cairns drummed up support for his blue team.
We watched the talented chefs show off their culinary skills as we dined. The Red Team's entry was seared salmon topped with a tomato, cucumber and shrimp relish and served on a colorful cauliflower medley seasoned with curry and cardamom. The Blue Team served a juicy sliced steak on a "risotto" of butternut squash, blue cheese, and kale.
We enjoyed Executive Pastry Chef Ben Galang's desserts as Izabela Wojcik of the James Beard Foundation spoke about the scholarship program and how James Beard's message was founded on eating locally and seasonally. General Manager Frank Ashmore proudly displayed the beautiful etched glass trophy as the winner was announced....congratulations to the Blue Team!
It turns out all were winners as each chef would receive one of these beautiful custom-designed awards. Local glass artisan Carole Perry explained how they were made with a 400-year old process called verre églomisé, a technique of reverse sand carving.
Desert to Dish certainly accomplished its ambitious goals. Kudos to Chef Cairns for his vision of celebrating these hard-working chefs and our wonderful Arizona farmers, craftsmen, growers, wine makers, and distillers. Until next year!
Desert to Dish schedule of events (click for recap and photos):
Thursday, October 22nd: Chef's Kitchen Welcome Reception
Friday, October 23rd: Farm Excursions and Supporting Culinary Dreams Reception
Saturday, October 24th: Master Culinary Classes and Sonoran Showdown finale
I received a complimentary media invitation to this event.