Foraged Dinner with Chrysa Robertson and Hank Shaw at Rancho Pinot

Last night, Chef Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot teamed up with Hank Shaw, author of Hunt, Gather, Cook- Finding the Forgotten Feast for a dinner designed around ingredients indigenous to Arizona.

It was a perfect pairing: The local chef who kickstarted Slow Food in Phoenix and made her name by featuring dishes based on local, seasonal food with the avid forager, hunter, angler who shared his know how in cooking and eating from the wild.

The first treat, starring mulberries collected from Chrysa's aunt's yard, was Travis Nass's Mulberry Elixir Aperitif served with a golden pinon studded savory wafer. At the table, the appetizer plate featured crispy, stuffed Guarijio squash blossoms from Maya's Farm, surrounded by sweet-n-sour I'itoi onions, sautéed Shishito peppers, acorn meal piadini, and venison sausage. Shaw shared his technique for leeching acorns to be used to make flour and explained the acorn flour used in the piadini came from the Emory oak (less tannins) and did not require leeching. The I'itoi onions, historically grown by the Tohono O'odham, and the Italian Shishito pepper added some zing to the plate.

More from the Foraged Feast dinner at Rancho Pinot after the jump.

Every course was served with an Arizona wine; the fish course with Page Springs Cellars '08 "El Mezcla Primo" Grenache-Syrah Blend was our favorite pairing. The dish, New Mexico trout, dusted in blue cornmeal covered a bed of tepary beans mixed with smoky mesquite grilled nopales, spring onion, corn and bacon. Mexican oregano vinaigrette delivered its herbaceous flavor to the bean salad. Each ingredient on the plate was enjoyable to eat on its own, but combining a bite of fish with the bean salad delivered a taste of Southwestern field and stream together.

Mesquite grilled quail, prepared with an elderberry (from Snowflake) glaze were served with grilled Cholla buds (picked from Chrysa's property), chayote, local summer squash and a mole verde. The Cholla buds looked like morels, and were the most talked about ingredient of the night, with comparisons to artichoke heart in texture and understated flavor.

We could have easily been satisfied with a finish from Black Mesa Ranch fresh Chevre served with wild pecan honey from Northern Arizona, and sweet-n-spicy pecans from Carol Steele's Aravaipa Farm. But the sweet dessert following the cheese course included mesquite flour crepes, local peach ice cream dusted with Sonoran Chiltepin pepper, and a prickly pear (also from Chrysa's yard)-mesquite honey sauce kept us tasting. The Chiltepin pepper added more heat than expected, ramping up the complexity of flavor in an expected crepe, ice cream, and sweet sauce dessert.

The casual atmosphere of the evening allowed Chrysa and Hank to reach out to every diner to answer questions about sourcing local wild food and offer tips for cooking with ingredients like acorn and mesquite flour, Cholla buds, nopales, and tepary beans. Each course was a blend of the familiar with incorporated wild ingredients, native to the Sonoran desert and its bordering regions.

We left knowing we will look at the Cholla buds in our neighbor's yard with a coveting eye.

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Carol Blonder