Binkley's Restaurant
Sarah Whitmire

Despite what we may have learned in human anatomy, we consider the stomach and heart to be directly connected, which would explain why we're so enamored with Kevin Binkley. Executive chef and owner of the award-winning Binkley's Restaurant and Café Bink in Cave Creek, Kevin Binkley delivers food at its finest — and its most creative.

Admittedly always playing with his food, Binkley constantly is conducting culinary experiments, whether it's turning olive oil into a solid, using transglutaminase to create two-sided surf and turf, or freezing blackberries to shatter them into powder. Many of his deliciously deviant dishes are created with the help of liquid nitrogen, which Binkley stores in a large tank in the back of his kitchen and refills weekly. It's something you'll find in only a handful of kitchens in the Southwest. To Binkley, its potential is limitless. To challenge himself and his team, Binkley changes his menu daily. At least three times a week, Binkley and his chefs visit Two Wash Ranch to collect fresh farm produce so that, ultimately, what they take out of the ground each morning is sitting on your plate at night (albeit in a different form or texture than you would normally expect). It's his use of fresh ingredients fashioned into fresh concepts that's been giving our taste buds goose bumps since 2004 and getting him James Beard Award nominations since 2005. Now if only he could ease our long-distance love affair by opening up a location closer to Phoenix. Ah, well, we can dream. See a slideshow here.
Arizona Science Center

Suspended horseradish with local hydroponic micro-shoots, dehydrated Pacific Ocean water, nonenzymatic caramelized fork-tender short ribs with red-injected veal reduction, viscous coconut milk emulsion.

Doesn't sound like your typical wine dinner, does it? Well, all those things and more were served by chef Justin Beckett and crew at the first-ever Feed Your Dreams Dinner and Awards ceremony, presented by The Up Agency and hosted by the Arizona Science Center. The five-course dinner sounded like a somewhat creepy science experiment, but the end result was nothing but pure culinary deliciousness. Chilled shrimp were served on top of black beans with crunchy corn nuts and creamy avocado, extra-tender short ribs were bathed in savory red wine juices, and dense coconut cake was blanketed with golden brown shredded coconut. But the evening wasn't just about food — it was also about helping local entrepreneurs with a passion for sustainable locally grown food and a drive to help make the world a better place. Beckett's Table and The Up Agency gave away $10,000 cash and a $10,000 marketing package to the lucky winners of the Feed Your Dreams contest, Bruce & Tina Leadbetter of Stone Hoe Gardens. Their plan to create lush vegetable gardens in parking lots, prisons, and vacant spaces beat out dozens of contest entries. All in all, it made for an educational dinner complete with wine pairings and plenty of plant sciences.

Dennis and Danielle McClung purchased their first home in the 'burbs of Mesa in 2009, hoping to transform their sparse backyard while teaching themselves how to grow/raise their own food. By mid-2010, they'd turned their backyard garden pool into a completely self-sufficient mini-farm that provides almost 100 percent of their family's food, 365 days a year. The solar-powered, aquaponic greenhouse has their backyard pool at the base of the farm providing a constantly replenishing supply of tilapia swimming around the bottom, with vegetables, fruits, and herbs growing under their greenhouse atop. Egg-laying chickens and milk-producing goats roam the rest of the yard. These urban farmers are really making a splash.

College campuses tend to be a wasteland of fast food and sub-par dining options, but Arizona State understands that to keep its brightest brains burning, the usual stuff just isn't enough. That's the only reasonable explanation for the dining hall at Barrett, the Honors College on the Tempe campus where students can fuel their noggins with steak, sushi, gelato, and more. Barrett Dean Marc Jacobs wanted the refectory — a 20,000 square foot dining hall that looks like a set from Harry Potter — to be modeled after the dining options of the British University system. The "eating environment" features a daily menu of upscale food items, from you-pick-the-ingredients stir-fry to wood-fired pizza and even the occasional shrimp and lobster splurge. With grub like this at an all-you-can-eat facility, the Freshman 15 might be well worth it. And you can try it, too. The dining hall is open to all ASU students (who have to pay an additional fee if they are on the typical student meal plan) and the public. Breakfast is $8.75, lunch is $10.75, and dinner $12.75.

Best Place to Learn the Science of Canning

Denise Is Cooking

So you've learned how to make jam and salsa and you've even come up with your own recipe for barbecue sauce that you think is pretty awesome. Now what? How exactly are you going to store your culinary masterpieces? That's where Denise Clayton comes in. She'll teach you the basics of canning your own food in the comfort of her downtown Phoenix studio. It may seem like an easy task, but there's a little bit more to the process than just putting some jars in hot water, and if you don't do it right, that jam you just made could turn into a festering jar of botulism. Don't poison your friends with a botched canning job because you're too cheap to learn the right way, Denise's classes are only about $35 and you get to make four different jams, chutneys, and/or pie fillings which you get to take home in your very own jars. She'll even make you lunch.

Best Place to Learn About the Science of Composting

Valley Permaculture Alliance

When plant debris and vegetable table scraps are put into a pile and left to marinate with the heat and moisture of their own decomposition, the result is gardening black gold. The dark, earthy substance is the key to growing bigger, brighter tomatoes, healthier-looking flowers, and sweeter-tasting corn. Learn all about the science behind the art of composting during one of the many classes offered by members of the Valley Permaculture Alliance. The group of Valley garden and sustainability enthusiasts will teach you everything you need to know about making your own soil better through the use of compost. Once you've got your composting down, you can move on to backyard chickens, worm composting, and other classes that can help turn your backyard into your own personal farm.

Best Scientific-ish Reason to Eat Chocolate

Wei of Chocolate

Organic, vegan, fair-trade dark chocolate is old news by now. But infused with vibrational floral essences and customized to our moods? Keep talking. The six varieties of bite-size bliss are plain (Wei Pure for joy, strength, and inspiration; Wei Relaxed to encourage restful sleep) or flavored with tea, spices, citrus, herbs, cayenne, or espresso. They're available at several local farmers markets, spas, and boutiques — or online. If you read about the proprietors and their philosophical positions, it may all seem a bit woo-woo, but if it takes being one with everything to make something so pure and tasty, more power to them.

Best Place to Stock Up for the End of the World as We Know It

Honeyville Farms

Honeyville Farms Chandler Local Store

If the end came tomorrow, chances are the only people who'd last through the day after would fall into two groups: preppers and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fortunately, the keys to post-apocalyptic survival can, for the most part, be found in one convenient location. The Honeyville Farms retail store in Chandler offers all you'd need to survive alien attack, zombie invasion, or just about any other apocalyptic happening. From freeze-dried scrambled eggs and bacon to hygiene kits and portable toilets, this emergency preparedness store has it all. With 50-pound bags of harder-to-find whole grains like buckwheat and rye, Honeyville draws customers from home bakers to ardent Arizona survivalists. And this doomsday cloud has a (sunny) silver lining: Honeyville's sun-oven demos have us thinking there might be an upside to global warming after all.

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