7 Metro Phoenix Chefs on Whether Or Not Food Festivals Are Good For Local Restaurants

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We're in the thick of food festival season, Phoenix. And while local diners are busy discovering new restaurants and wines and learning more about the Valley food scene, local chefs and restaurant owners are spending hours prepping special dishes in hopes of attracting new customers. 

Participating in these large-scale food events requires resources — both monetary and otherwise — and so we asked some of metro Phoenix's chefs and restaurateurs if they think it's all worth the effort. 

Are food festivals good for the industry?

Silvana Salcido Esparza, chef of Barrio Cafe 

Festivals have existed since the beginning of mankind. In Mexico, the calendar even denotes when it’s time for a festival, and all include food. God of rain – food. God of war – food. I love festivals. I especially love the ones that are for the people and not just those who can afford expensive ticket prices, like ethnic festivals. Have you ever been to a Basque picnic? 

Kevin Binkley, chef of Binkley's 

Yes and no. Yes, because it can give restaurants exposure. No, because it is difficult to represent what you do in your restaurant from a tent. 

Brad Borchardt, chef of (soon-to-be-open) The Phoenix Ale Brewery Central Kitchen

They can be fun to put on and enjoyable for the guest, but they are challenging to pull off for an independent restaurant in terms of the financial investment and time investment. While it can take some time for the payoff to come, at the very least you can hopefully extend your reach and brand by participating.

Chrysa Robertson, chef/owner of Rancho Pinot 

I think they are lots of fun for the public. They do create a buzz, but I don't think they really generate new customers for the restaurants. But I rarely participate because I don't have the staff to do it. So what do I know?

Samantha Senz, chef at Talavera 

I thoroughly enjoy food festivals. I think it brings a sense of community to the food world. It is a great feeling to get outside of the kitchen, mingle with culinary peers, meet new people, and get inspired by what others are executing. I have a healthy sense of competition and enjoy being pushed, and inspired, by consumers and fellow cooks.         

Charles Wiley, executive chef of ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho

I think they are an excellent way for the public to connect with chefs and restaurateurs. I’ll never forget meeting Bradley Ogden, Joyce Goldstein, and Barbara Tropp at various festivals when I lived in San Francisco, raising money for worthy causes. In the past 25 years, I’ve participated in over 100 events, all over the country, but mostly in Arizona. It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding, and so much fun to visit with the other chefs and try their dishes.

Nick Henry, executive chef of RnR

I believe when they are used to educate the public about the industry and where food comes from, they can be beneficial for everyone. 

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