Caramelpalooza Contestants, Unwrapped

We don't want to get all icky sweet, but we've got to tell you how impressed with are with the line up of contestants for Caramelpalooza, our first-ever caramel tasting at Smeeks candy store.

Come on over to Smeeks tonight at 7 for a first-come-first-serve caramel tasting. Along with an "official judging" panel we'll have a People's Choice award and we'll be raffling off everything from Chow Bella aprons to Smeeks T-shirts. Treats for everyone!

Here's a sneak peek at the participants.

Veronica Arroyo & Bryan Steverson, Michael Mina's BOURBON STEAK at the Fairmont Scottsdale Resort
Bourbon Steak pastry chef Veronica Arroyo (assisted by Bryan Steverson, asst. pastry chef at Bourbon Steak) has a sweet bio, to say the least. It's too much to list all of her accomplishments and every place she's worked, but does being invited as an assistant chef to the James Beard House in New York City say anything?!

From the Camelback Inn to the Citadel, she's worked in some of the finest places in town, but our favorite item on her resume is the summer she took off to cook for firefighters battling forest blazes.

"If you want to see someone appreciate your food, cook for a firefighter who has just finished digging trenches in 800 degrees. It's then you remember why you cook," Arroyo says.

Brady Breese

Brady Breese, Urban Cookies

Brady Breese is the owner and head baker of Urban Cookies, an organic cookie company in Phoenix. The self-described "under dog" at Caramelpalooza, Breese, who credits his success in the kitchen to "good old practice, practice, practice," is far too humble.

Don't trust us; try his cookies.

Tammie Coe, Tammie Coe Cakes

Tammie Coe honed her skills in the kitchen from an early age, creating her first wedding cake at age 12. Today she's well-known around town for cakes fit for the Mad Hatter's tea party -- incredible creations of draped and folded fondant, with amazing cake underneath. She runs a bakery in the Arcadia neighborhood and a shop/café on Roosevelt Row -- all in conjunction with husband MJ, a master baker, whose breads round out the gig.

Tracy Dempsey

Tracy Dempsey, Tracy Dempsey Originals

Tracy Dempsey has been treating Valley diners to her "composed desserts" for more than a decade. She's worked at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn, Restaurant Hapa, and Cowboy Ciao, and now oversees desserts at CRUDO. You can also buy her "Tracy Dempsey Originals" at the Scottsdale Farmers Market and Smeeks. (We're partial to her homemade marshmallows!)

(check out more sticky competition after the jump....)

Slade Grove

Slade Grove, Wicked Kitchen Gourmet

The guy behind Wicked Bakery and Wicked Witch Bakery, Slade Grove's latest concept is housed at Luci's Healthy Marketplace. Wicked Kitchen Gourmet makes everything from wasabi ginger dip to peaunt butter spice truffles to brownies to -- you guessed it -- caramels.


Tim & Joan O'Connor, Honey Moon Sweets Bakery & Dessert Bar

Tim and Joan O'Connor have done it all -- from catering expansive film productions in Manhattan to owning and operating their own Italian restaurant in Massachusetts. Then we were lucky enough to nab them. In 1996, they opened Honey Moons Sweets Bakery & Dessert Bar in Tempe, making cakes and pastries for more than 100 Arizona restaurants, resorts, catering companies and specialty food stores.

Honey Moon's retail dessert bar offers a selection of sweets, and you can even tour the bakery for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how it all happens.

Virginia Senior

Virginia Senior, Urban Beans

Virginia Senior is a rare combination -- both architect and chef. She approaches cooking as she does design, she says, with careful consideration to colors, flavors and textures.

"Whether it's building materials or food," she explains, there are common elements: "creativity, innovation, design, form, quality materials and
ingredients, palettes and palates, art, color, originality, science -- and
most importantly, the end user/consumer."

Visit Urban Beans for a sweet and a cup of coffee, and you just might bump into Senior, who's happy to talk about projects, both of confection and architecture.

Whimsical Candy
Whimsical Candy -- our only competitor from outside metropolitan Phoenix -- is offering its signature product, LA-DEE-DAHS, for the judges' consideration. The Chicago-based company makes small batch sweets that "blend a grown-up taste for quality with the fun and classic flavors of childhood candy." Smeeks owner Georganne Bryant discovered LA-DEE-DAHS and brought them to Phoenix, where you can buy a box at Smeeks any time.

Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung

Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung, Sweet Republic

Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung left Wall Street for Scottsdale in 2008, opening Sweet Republic and making life in the Valley a little sweeter, one scoop at a time. Today you can also find their ice cream at some Whole Foods outlets. Not willing to rest on their frosty laurels (they've been lauded by everyone from Bon Appetit to New Times), the two are now in the candy making business -- homemade marshmallows, bacon brittle and caramels.

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