Pack 40 of the nation's top chefs into extremely close quarters, arm them with sharp knives, and what happens?
Despite a rocky start in its disorganized planning stages, Saturday night's Pleasures of the Palettes at the Phoenician turned out to be a success for its 800 or so very well-fed guests. Credit has to go to the chefs, who struggled in beyond-cozy cooking spaces of perhaps 10 feet each, juggling skillets over little propane burners to turn out multicourse feasts. Next time I go camping, I want these chefs on my cookout: flexible masters like Norman Fierros (Norman's), Gregory Casales (Gregory's Grill), Reed Groban (Marquesa), Vincent Guerithault (Vincent Guerithault on Camelback), Patrick Poblete (Lon's). You've never seen grace under pressure until you've seen Guerithault browning dozens of crème brûlées with a blowtorch in about a foot of workspace.
Not all the chefs suffered equally, it's true. Taking center stage in the ballroom were Jacques Pepin, Roger Verge (Le Moulin de Mougins in France), and, no surprise, host chef James Boyce of the Phoenician. Compared with the cramped confines of the other chefs, this trio practically luxuriated in an elevated, spotlighted arena. Guess it helps to know the boss.
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In an unforgivable oversight by the event committee, however, some of the event chefs had more room than they knew what to do with. A collection of "Top Five Favorite Restaurants," including Restaurant Hapa, RoxSand, Gregory's Grill, Medizona and Rancho Pinot Grill, was supposed to serve special appetizers during the event's reception, but the chefs were nowhere to be found.
Gee, it would have been extremely helpful if event organizers had told guests, or even servers in the main room, that this celebrity group was sequestered in a private room off the lobby. Instead, the chefs -- who had prepared munchies for 800 -- had perhaps a dozen lucky souls stumble upon their hiding place. After about an hour, the celeb chefs marched out into the main hall to let guests know where the group was.
Given the chefs' already generous contributions, it's hardly surprising that an after-event chef's party didn't go so smoothly, either. Event organizers were unable to convince local talent to donate more food -- and more time -- to toasting themselves. At the last minute, Paul Fleming (Fleming's Steakhouse, P.F. Chang's) agreed to underwrite food prepared by Phoenician staff. Way to go, Paul.
Veg Out: The bad news -- chef Hallie Harron has closed Quiessence at the Farm at South Mountain. The good news -- she's opening a farmers' market next weekend, at Macdonald and Main in Mesa. The market is open on Saturdays, with a kickoff party November 18.