Event season is in full swing as evidenced by the hundreds of people who came out to support the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix by stuffing themselves with food and drink at Dish It Out on Sunday. Sure, it's a little ironic to raise money to fight child hunger in such gluttonous fashion, but the well-organized event made it easy to overlook that fact. We were invited to join in on the dining, drinking, and entertainment provided by four of the city's best chefs.
Held at Salt River Fields, the tasting event offered a distinctly upscale vibe with a cocktail attire dress code (although it wasn't really enforced -- yeah, we're looking at you golf shirt guy!) and complimentary plastic plate and wine glass combo for each attendee. Not only did the plates make it incredibly easier to balance food and drinks while moving around the event, these reusable plates cut down on waste, a nice touch.
On the main concourse of the stadium about two dozen restaurants served up samples of food for general admission guests. We were happy to see that the lineup included booths from small, locally owned restaurants such as Beaver's Choice, where owner and chef Hanna Gabrielsson served potato perogis, and Hummus Xpress, where owner and chef Eddie Hantas helped diners build their own miniature pitas.
Several places offered different types of sliders, in typical tasting event fashion, but overall the general admission portion of the event seemed to have a good range of foods and plenty of it all. We didn't see any of the restaurants running low on samples or giving out small portions. In fact, in most cases we surprised to see the restaurants giving out impressively large samples. Ra Sushi, for example, was serving four pieces of sushi to each guest.
But as much as there was to taste on the lower floor of the event, it was clear more upscale restaurants had been placed on the upper floors and were only accessible to VIP ticket holders.
VIP tickets, which cost $500 per person as opposed to $75 for general admission, granted access to restaurants such as Citizen Public House, The Mission, Cowboy Ciao/Counter Intuitive, Roka Akor, and the three dining outlets of the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The VIP floors also offered a whiskey and cigar lounge and larger selection of cocktails and spirits than was available downstairs.
The Dish It Out Chef Competition began about an hour after general admission entry started, by which time we were already stuffed and happy to settle in to watch some cooking.
The first round featured chefs Aaron May and Matt Carter who each cooked a dish in under 17 minutes to be judged by a panel comprised of James Beard Award winning chef Robert McGrath, Urban Cookies owner Brady Breese, and Mike "Jack" Bauer of Fox Sports. Initially the judges declared the first round a tie, but later gave the win to May.
The second round of the competition was definitely more entertaining as chefs James Porter and Christopher Gross took the stage. The two chefs bantered back and forth throughout the demonstration with Porter convincing the audience to donate several hundred dollars to the Boys and Girls Clubs while he cooked -- and drank a impressive amount of scotch.
In the end Porter lost the friendly competition to May in the final round.
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Dish It Out may not be the "Valley's premier outdoor culinary event" as billed on the event website but we have to say we were impressed with the event. There were no lines, plenty space, of a great range of local restaurants at this year's event making for a stress-less experience for everyone.