Trust us: With all the superb food festivals we have in the Valley, it's not easy to make it onto Chow Bella's radar.
But the Epicuriad is no ordinary event. On the strength of its unique premise -- top local chefs match dishes with beer and wine in an all-out food pairing competition -- the dinner affair definitely caught our attention in 2011. It returns this year bigger and better than ever.
What's unchanged: The general idea behind the Epicuriad remains the same. A group of Arizona's top chefs are given a single beer and wine (for example, Papago Coconut Joe vs. Bell Valley Cabernet, or Sonoran 7 Wives Saison vs. Godwin Chardonnay), then create a dish that pairs well with each. Diners taste the pairings and vote on which booze was the better match as well as their favorite pairings of the evening. The Firesky Resort and Spa in Scottsdale will reprise its role as event location, and a portion of all ticket sales will be used by the Beer for Brains Foundation to support brain cancer research.
What's new: lots, according to Beer for Brains founder Louis Dolgoff.
"First, we've added a VIP ticket this year," Dolgoff says. "People who buy those will be able to get in an hour early and go to a special area we have set up, where Food Network Chef Beau MacMilian will do a cooking demonstration and mixologist Jason Asher -- who was voted the best mixologist in the USA -- will do a beer cocktail and a wine cocktail paired with Beau's food."
Along with new chefs making their first Epicuriad appearance -- like Lon's at the Hermosa's Chef Jeremy Pacheco and Atlas Bistro's Joshua Reisner -- the dinner will also feature its first food truck, Buzznbeez Good Food Truck.
"We figured it would be fun to mix them in and see how they can compete against the restaurant chefs," Dolgoff says.
The drink menu has likewise expanded. Working with a sommelier, Chuck Noll, Master of Fine Beer at World Class Beverages and Certified Cicerone, worked with a sommelier to select new brews that go beyond the local landscape to do battle with wine. Along with homegrown brews such as SanTan Devil's Ale and Four Peaks Hop Knot, diners will be able to taste offerings from Firestone Walker, The Bruery and Crispin Ciders.
"We made the decision to branch out to non-Arizona beers so we could have more variety," Dolgoff says. "The idea was, you didn't want a beer that was so far off that it wouldn't work with the wine. We wanted to make it so the chef could make something that would go well with both."
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Dolgoff promises that though the event's been kicked up in size, it'll retain the intimate atmosphere and incredibly flavors that made it a winner last year.
"It's a much smaller, more intimate event than most," he says. "If we sell out, it'll be 200 people. There's no waiting in line, it's a relaxed atmosphere, and you can eat all you want. It's a special night, especially for beer lovers."
The Epicuriad will be held Friday, April 6, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Firesky Resort and Spa. Tickets are available here.