It's beginning to dawn on me: My friends and I have coughed up $500 a head to stare at each other, and we're thrilled. This is last weekend, and we've come together at Mary Elaine's, the breathtakingly beautiful restaurant at the Phoenician, for a landmark event. For the first time in Arizona's culinary history, our little town has been deemed worthy of hosting a Bon Appétit gala, highlighted by the presence of such celebrity chefs as Todd English (Olives), Bobby Flay (Mesa Grill, Bolo), Nobu Matsuhisa (Nobu and Iron Chef), Tom Colicchio (Craft) and Daniel Boulud (Daniel).
The only problem is, the chefs aren't at our dinner. They're resting up for the next day, in anticipation of what they really came to Scottsdale for: golf. They're getting together the following morning at Grayhawk, where, for another $500, I get to see them swing at little white balls while I sample their "signature tastings" at stations set up along the course.
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So it's just me and my pals on a Friday night, admiring the stunning view of Camelback Mountain, nibbling on caviar, mussels and jumbo shrimp, sipping Ruinart champagne, kind of wondering why we didn't simply plan a private meal and save ourselves some serious cash.
Actually, the real reason we signed up for the pricey weekend, I tell myself, is to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and to assist the events' poster child in fulfilling her curious dream of meeting Emeril Lagasse (he's not there, either). I figure that by Sunday, the child should own Emeril, given the other functions Valley foodies have been offered: a variety of culinary workshops and tastings ($50-plus each), a grand tasting dinner ($125) and a champagne brunch ($75). Each event is standing room only, packed with people who, if they're completely puzzled by Scottsdale chef Gregory Casale's (Gregory's World Bistro) decision to serve slabs of pork belly at the Grand Tasting, are too excited to be part of the glamour to question anything.
Yet second mortgage or no, I wouldn't have missed a second of any of it. It's an awesome three days, and proud proof that Arizona's culinary scene has finally arrived. The celeb chefs finally show up for Saturday night's tasting and make it all worthwhile. Nobu lobs paper wads at the KOY DJ trying to get a word in edgewise as he interviews the chatty Michael DeMaria (Michael's at the Citadel). English confides to me that he has "removed" an aggressive swan from the pond at his popular Las Vegas restaurant after the bird chased a guest into the bar. Hyatt Gainey chef Anton Brunbauer introduces us to his hot new ingredient, a Native American mushroom called corn smut.
To rub elbows with class like that is a bargain at any price.