The Scottsdale Culinary Festival "Hit List"

Last night, the 33rd Annual Scottsdale Culinary Festival kicked off with a glam opening bash at Shade at the W Scottsdale.

The six-day food fest includes over a dozen events, from upscale chef dinners and a Friends of James Beard event to the weekend's more accessible and affordable Great Arizona Picnic.

If you've got a full wallet and an empty schedule for the next few days -- plus a love of food, libations and the Scottsdale nightlife scene -- you could conceivably pack your belly and your calendar from now until Monday. For everyone else, we've compiled a helpful "Hit List" of Scottsdale Culinary Festival must-sees.


Say "Yes" to...
The Great Arizona Picnic on Saturday, April 9, from noon to 9 p.m. and Sunday, April 10, from noon to 6 p.m. at Scottsdale Civic Center Plaza. It's the festival's main event, and at $10 it's also the most budget-friendly.

Inside the GAP: There's so much wine available at Cooks & Corks (also on Saturday and Sunday) and throughout the week, that the Robert Mondavi Discover Wine Tour is probably a fruitless endeavor unless GAP is the only event you're attending. The 200+ specialty brews available at the Southwest Festival of Beers, on the other hand, are worth the extra $10-$20 admission fee you'll fork over to get in.

T. Cook's is already sold out, but the four-course Chefs Wine Dinner at Renegade Canteen on Saturday night looks promising (veal sweetbreads and duck fajitas paired with Stronghold Wines). Trader Vic's Benovia Wine Dinner capitalizes on current trends with pork belly starters, smoked short rib, and an extra cheese course. Cost is $125 per person.    

A Definite Maybe...
Once you're inside Cooks & Corks, the food and drinks are nearly unlimited. That alone makes the event worth the $65-75 price tag. Plus, you'll also get to rub elbows with two of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs, Food Network's Robin Miller, and James Beard honored mixologist Kim Haasarud.

Friday night's Eat, Drink & Be Pretty Party at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will likely be estrogen-loaded, as it tends to draw sexy, young females interested in runway couture and fashionable cocktails. Then again, maybe that knowledge will help nudge a few on-the-fence guys into buying a $65 ticket.  

Not a "Hit"...
Unless you're in the biz or are star-struck by celeb chefs, it's safe to skip tonight's Chef Tribute Dinner honoring Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Same goes for Sunday's Best of the Fest at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale. While SWB's Spanish-inspired menu and Talavera's innovative pairing of duck and foie with PB&J sound intriguing, there's no way the average person could consume enough food & wine to make the $175 price tag easy to swallow.

We always say "yes" to chocolate, but The Chocolate & Wine Experience on Thursday, April 7, is a decadent delight you'll have to skip if you don't already have tickets. The event, which features desserts prepared by four local chefs including Julia Baker and Ella Levinson of Classic Cakes & Confections, sold out before the festival began. The good news is that Baker and participating pastry chef Tracy Dempsey can be regularly found around town at food festivals, farmers' markets and restaurant events.  

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