The 10th annual Arizona Good Food Expo, renamed from the Farmer + Chef Connection for the 2019 rendition, was a full-day indoor farmers market with speakers, networking, and yes, good food.
Hosted by the Local First Arizona on August 26, farmers, chefs, restaurateurs, millers, brewers, vinters, and food-makers of all kinds were sharing samples and making connections.
The display within the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort’s Grande Ballroom was impressive as you first walked in. Rows of vendors stretched almost to the back of the room. There were entire rows dedicated to Arizona coffee, wine, and beer, with vendors in between offering samples of chocolate, cheese, and chips.
The expo started at a cafeteria noise level, which kept things energetic throughout. People were laughing and sharing, asking questions, shouting instructions.
But the back of the room is a world all its own. Just a few feet away from the vendors are separate rows of chairs and a small stage. This is where keynote speaker Charleen Badman kicked things off, followed later by big contributors to the Arizona food world.
Badman is co-owner of FnB restaurant, found of the Blue Watermelon Project, and recipient of the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southwest. She talked about her early days as a chef in New York, supporting local food businesses here in Arizona, school lunches, and climate change.
“Supporting local is not the easiest way to run a business,” she said. "You have to be passionate about it to make it work.” And on the subject of purchasing local ingredients, she defines this as, “choosing purposefully to spend our dollars within our community.” Big applause.
But true to the chef’s down-to-earth character, as Local First Arizona founder Kimber Lanning put it, Badman only talked about her own Scottsdale restaurant for a few minutes. She spent significant time highlighting local food purveyors, including Dave the Egg Man (Dave Jordan), Hayden Flour Mills, Sonoran Pasta Co., Noble Bread, Chula Seafood, Nelson's Meat + Fish, Wong's Family Farm, and more. Many had booths set up behind the audience.
ODV Wines also got a mention, as Badman emphasized the long journey of Arizona’s vineyards. “Arizona wine has come a long way,” she said. “Ten years ago, we had to trick and bribe people into trying it.”
Badman said that since her Beard award, she feels more responsibility than ever to be a mouthpiece for members of the Arizona food world. “I can feel this is just the beginning,” she said.
Between speakers, expo attendees ambled through the rows of vendors. There was feta from Crow’s Dairy, nitro-blasted coffee from the Roastery of Cave Creek, brownies from Zak’s Chocolate, and samples of beer, cider, wine, milk, juice, tea — you name it.
Later, the Recipes for Success panel welcomed Chef Tamara Stanger of Cotton & Copper, Chef Stephen Jones of the Larder + the Delta, Chef John Panza of BiGA by Senses, Whipstone Farm owner Shanti Rade, and Todd Hanley of Maynards Market & Kitchen and Hotel Congress.
By then, the well-attended expo was in full swing. It took a double PA announcement to get the afternoon panel underway. Topics included menu consistencies to menu’s changing with the seasons, profitability, the importance of communication, and outlooks on corporate food distributors.
One heavy topic focused on the challenges and rewards working with small, local farms. Tips and suggestions flew. Advice ranged from words of encouragement to new local food purveyors, and on getting to know Arizona farmers at — where else — area farmers markets.
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Festivities continued at the reception at the on-site restaurant, Different Pointe of View. Chef Anthony DeMuro provided the food while interacting continued.
The day’s lessons were many, but it all came back to the event’s original namesake: farmers and chefs making connections. A piece of advice from featured speaker Charleen Badman had apparently stuck in everyone’s mind.
“Take this opportunity, this moment, to make a connection with someone,” she said. “Together, we are Arizona strong.”
For more information, see the Local First Arizona website.