We heeded Laura Hahnefeld's advise and mapped our route through the Scottsdale Culinary Festival's Great Arizona Picnic on Sunday. With close to 50 food vendors, a plan was needed for stomach and pocketbook capacity. Food vendors who offered a choice of a single taste at $2 to $3 or a multi-course plate for $6 or more scored our purchases, fitting our plan to sample a wide range of offerings.
We passed on the pizza, pasta and cheesecake on a stick. The outside temperature and desire to experience a multitude of tastes reduced the appeal of hot and heavy food. Vendors participate to showcase the specialty of their restaurants and food trucks, but with the heat and the concept of picnic in mind, we were drawn to the food best served outdoors-anything cooked on a grill and food best served cold. Which leaves us to wonder why more vendors didn't take the opportunity to stretch their culinary muscles and take us by surprise with food designed for a picnic.
Three booths quickly drew our attention -- those displaying an award for one of the festival's juried categories- Best Food, Best Booth (décor) and Best Dessert. Nine food industry judges, working in teams, tasted their way through all 50 participating food vendors on Saturday, announcing the winners late Saturday afternoon.
Sushi Roku took the prize for Best Food with their tasting menu of Hanabi (toasted rice topped with spicy tuna); Filet Mignon wrapped asparagus, and Tuna Poke. Their presentation was pretty on the plate, easy to eat at a picnic and refreshing. The trio of samples complemented each other; a crunch and hit of spicy tuna in the Hanabi, silky smooth Poke, and tender filet wrapped sweet grilled asparagus.
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The patina of copper drew the eye to Jewel of the Crown's display of Indian cuisine. The scent of dal, curry, and silk-road spices further enticed a desire for a taste. Yards of silk, colorful printed fabric panels and teak finished the look to win the award for Best Booth (décor). Proof that we eat with our eyes and nose first.
Chicago's famed Peterson's Old- fashioned Ice Cream won Best Dessert. The judges tasted many of Peterson's flavors, but their favorite was the "Mackinac Island Fudge". With 18% butterfat, the vanilla ice cream base swirled with chocolate and Mackinac Island fudge was in a word-rich.
What was the Chicago landmark ice cream parlor doing at a Scottsdale picnic? According to Terry Spanos, managing partner for Arizona, Peterson's has plans for the Valley. Currently they are in negotiation for a space in Old Town as well as plans for wholesale distribution to resorts and restaurants. The Sugar Bowl and Mary Coyle's may have some competition, but for our taste buds, Peterson's might look to Sweet Republic for a flavor lesson or two.