Last night hundreds of food lovers took over the terrace at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel for Palette to Palate, a new event added the Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic lineup this year. It's actually an old concept; the idea for the event came from chef James Porter and his wife, Wendy, who owned the Tapatio restaurant at the time. For the event, organizers team up local chefs and local artists, and challenge each to create work -- food, drink, or visual artwork -- that's inspired by one another.
In practice, from what we can tell, last night's event didn't quite work that way but the good news is that it was an entertaining art show -- that also happened to feature some really good food.
The venue, an outdoor terrace in the middle of downtown Phoenix, set the a perfect tone for the event. With a live band and videos projected on the adjacent buildings, the space felt urban and fun. The views alone were also quite impressive; from the Renaissance's 6th floor, downtown Phoenix's buildings seemed giant and dense, adding even more to the urban vibe.
At 6 p.m. sharp attendees were able to wander the event, checking out each artist's work and tasting the food and drink designed to accompany it. Or at least, that's what was supposed to happen.
In practice, what went down was more like a big rush to get food samples from each of the five participating chefs. Only once the food was gone -- about an hour and half into the event -- did people really start to relax, hang out, and enjoy the art. By about two hours in the crowds started to thin, and by 9 p.m. most of the chefs had torn down and left.
But aside from the quick turn around, we were happy to see that the chefs lived up to the Devoured Phoenix reputation. The two-day festival has established a reputation as the most serious culinary event in town, and with this extra event the chefs didn't let up.
Some of our favorite bites included Bernie Kantak's meyer lemon cured yellowtail and yuzu jerky, paired with a Copper City Bourbon whiskey sour with kafir lime and yuzu foam by Brian Goodwin. Kantak's artist pairing Abigail Lynch presented a set of simple but gripping photographs that depicted subjects including a peeled piece of citrus and a male in a bathtub. Interestingly enough, Kantak told us Lynch has worked at Citizen Public House for some time, making the pairing an easy match.
Another good set could be found in artist Randy Slack and chef Bob Tam of Bitter and Twisted. By the time we made it to the restaurant's table both Ross Simon's punch and half of Tam's food were long gone. But a simple potato croquette with hoisin sauce went well with Slack's large, pop paintings -- including one of a large panda drinking a soda.
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We were particularly impressed with the food from the host restaurant Icon at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel. The restaurant offered a light pasta salad made with beet pasta, lamb tongue, and green apple goat cheese sorbet. The restaurant's artist paring, Jesse Perry, who used to work at the hotel, created an original artwork that used charcoal from braising the lamb tongue and juice from the beets.
Next year to encourage attendees to spend more time hanging out and appreciating the art, we'll hope to see more participating chefs and more food and drinks. If there had been more food we would have loved to stay and enjoy the venue and art. Otherwise, we were happy to see the high quality, creativity, and diversity of food each chef put out for the night -- which makes us all the more excited to see what our Phoenix chefs have in store for the main event this weekend.