The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America® Rolls into Phoenix
Maggie BordenMaggie Borden
September 29, 2015
This weekend the James Beard Foundation’s annual Taste America tour made a stop in Phoenix. For the third year running, JBF is traveling to ten cities from coast to coast to host exclusive fundraising dinners created by a visiting All-Star chef and a Local Star chef, along with cooking demos, artisanal tastings, and book signings.
The Phoenix festivities took place at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa, in the shadow of the breathtaking Camelback Mountain. The evening kicked off with a walk-around tasting reception featuring top chefs from the area, including Kevin Binkley (Binkley’s Restaurant Group); Matt Carter (Zinc Bistro); Rochelle Daniel (The Restaurant at L’Auberge de Sedona); Mel Mecinas (Talavera at Four Seasons Resort), and Mark Tarbell (Tarbell’s Restaurant Group). The dishes showcased the Valley of the Sun’s diverse culinary heritage, from Daniel’s foie gras with Ponderosa pine, plum, creek cress, and peanuts, to Carter’s guinea hen with oyster, chilmole, and agave vinegar.
Following the reception, guests made their way to the dining room for the main event: a four-course collaborative dinner by Taste America All-Star Michel Nischan, Local Star Chris Bianco, host chef Todd Allison, and RoxSand Scocos McCreary. Both Nischan and Bianco are known for their commitment to local agriculture, and expressed mutual admiration and excitement for the opportunity to translate their philosophy onto the plate. “I always say the Olympics are a competition, and restaurants are a community; they bring people to the table. I look at this as an opportunity to have people to come to my part of the world and to show them all the incredible things we have to work with, from grains to great grass-fed beef and pork. It’s just fun to share,” said Bianco. He prepared the second course of the night, hand-rolled Arizona Durum garganelli with heirloom tomato passata and smoked ricotta, while Nischan took on the third course: seared wild salmon with ancient grains and wilted greens. Host chef Todd Allison opened the dinner with pickled heirloom golden beets with Crow's Dairy goat cheese, watercress, cranberry–pistachio pesto, and barrel-aged sherry bourbon. And local legend RoxSand Scocos McCreary sent guests home happy with a dessert extravaganza, featuring a buffet of sweets like croquembouche, macaroons, truffles, cheesecake, and more. A cigar bar and fireworks display ended the night with a decadent finish.
The weekend’s celebration continued on Saturday at Sur La Table in Scottsdale, where Michel Nischan showed onlookers how to prepare the salmon he’d made for the previous evening. Nischan’s demo included far more than just cooking tips, however, as the 2015 JBF Humanitarian of the Year explained his larger view of the food system and his firm belief that “we can change the world through food.” After the demo, Nischan stuck around to answer questions and sign copies of his cookbook Sustainably Delicious.
Customers got a taste of local flavor when Barbara Fenzl stopped by for a second demonstration, whipping up some Mesquite crêpes with caramelized apples, cinnamon syrup, and pepitas. The acclaimed culinary instructor, cookbook author, and television personality introduced guests to the lesser known allure of mesquite flour, and quelled onlookers’ fears of handling sugar with her straightforward advice: “the secret to making caramel is not to touch it.” Fenzl later signed copies of her cookbook, Seasonal Southwest Cooking, as guests chatted with her and enjoyed free tastings of local artisanal products.
The James Beard Foundation's Taste America tour is off to Minneapolis and Seattle next weekend. Future stops will be made in Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Learn more about Taste America at jbftasteamerica.org and follow the tour at #JBFTasteAmerica on Twitter and Instagram.