When I was invited to judge the "Scottsdale Spice" awards, I thought maybe folks misunderstood the type of things I write about. Turns out it was really about culinary heat.
On September 27, Valley chefs ignored the latest big storm to they could compete at the inaugural event presented by the Scottsdale Chamber at the Venue Scottsdale. At stake was a "Golden Ticket," earning the winner a chance to go on to compete in Las Vegas, NV this November at the World Food Championship. My fellow New Times writers were busy at the Chili Pepper Festival on Roosevelt Row, so I was happy to venture to Scottsdale to do a little judging.
Other judges included Mike Wahlberg, executive chef at Vintage 95 in Chandler and Joanie Simon, host of Restaurant Live Arizona. We judged 11 dishes based on flavor and presentation. A little limiting, but it definitely helped the good stuff stand out.
Not all chefs chose to enter the panel judged competition but all were including the second part of the competition where event attendees voted for favorite dishes. All guests received a ballot as they entered and chose their favorites as the night progressed. Chefs and restaurants ranked their offerings from "mild" to "medium" to "hot." One unique features of the event was the ease in which you could move from station to station and the fact that one ticket paid for virtually all tastings and beverages inside.
What I noticed immediately was the mix of patrons at the event. Everyone from young couples having a fancy "date night" to groups of folks in their late 50s were there for the evening of food and live music. Quite the accomplishment for a first time event.
Suzanne Clark, a first place World Food Championship winner, presented the Golden Ticket to the World Chef Challenge qualifier winner -- Chef Anthony Serrano from El Palacio Restaurant & Cantina. The winning dish was Carnitas Street Tacos made with citrus braised pork and a spicy slaw presented on a fun beer can holder.
In the "people's choice" competition the winners are as follows:
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Mild - Hula's Modern Tiki Medium - Honey Bear's BBQ Hot - Angry Crab Shack Booth - Venue Scottsdale Overall "Scottsdale Spicy" Favorite - Hula's Modern Tiki
Hula's Modern Tiki served guests a spicy Hawaiian ceviche and volcanic ahi poke paired with a classic mai tai. I didn't like the ceviche but the ahi poke was pretty delicious. Everyone was talking about the Angry Crab Shack, which took the theme to the extreme with a scorching scorpion sauce topped sausage, shrimp and potato boil.
In the end, it would have been nice to see a wider variety of restaurants involved, but as a first year event, the sky is the limit for future competitions.