"The demographics of this thing don't cater to the Aspen types," Tompkins says. "There are the older folks there just to sample the food and get out of the house. Then you've got the foodies who really get into it. And then there are these kids that are going to the beer fest to get totally annihilated.
"Does it get any better?"
Oh, it most certainly gets better, especially when Tompkins -- executive chef at the highbrow Marco Polo Supper Club -- steps out for a cooking demo at the "Cooks & Corks" event Saturday, April 17, and Sunday, April 18, where he plans to bag on the Atkins diet and Robert Mondavi, and question the audience on just how "virgin" virgin olive oil really is.
"I wanna know how many are on Atkins, so I can bust their chops," says Tompkins, who will cook his Shrimp Puerto Peñasco sautéed in tequila and jalapeños. "I'll bust on Robert Mondavi, for sure. You think he grows every grape he puts into a bottle of wine himself?"
Matt Hamilton, general manager and lead chef at Scottsdale's Village Tavern, meanwhile, just wants an opportunity to show off his restaurant's mean rack o' ribs while soaking up the Valley's still-mild spring weather.
"I think of the culinary festival as sort of kicking off this theme of doing things outside, having backyard meals," says Hamilton, who will prepare potato salad, Chinese chicken salad, and Key lime pie to go along with the ribs at Friday night's "A Caterer's Fare."
While Hamilton agrees that the festival's lack of pomp, for the most part, makes it that much more charming, he says it couldn't hurt to tweak it just a bit.
"But if you go too far," he says, "you might lose the things people love about it."
The festival opens Tuesday night with a "Feasting With the Authors," an event that brings together national and local cookbook authors, food samplings and wine tastings. Subsequent events include an outdoor picnic with live entertainment, a "Wine Country Brunch" with eggs Benedict and carved beef tenderloin, and a black-tie affair that ends with a champagne reception at the Westin Kierland Resort.
Best of all, says Tompkins, festival proceeds benefit the Scottsdale League of the Arts' education programs around the Valley.
"If we know that the work we do at the festival is going toward a good cause," he says, "we'll come out and bust our asses."