Friends of the James Beard Benefit Dinner Last Night in Scottsdale

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The first course, courtesy of Chef Douglas Rodriguez, came not only beautifully plated but also with a stunning combination of flavors. Rodriguez, executive chef and owner of De Rodriguez Cube in Miami, is the Johnston and Wales graduate behind the menu and concept at the Westin's deseo. The dish featured aged bone marrow and three types of caviar, accompanied by sweet corn cachapas paired with a glass of Chandon's étoile Brut.

Next up came one of our favorite dishes of the night from chef Alan Wong of Alan Wong's Restaurants in Hawaii.

He served a plate of opakapaka, or Hawaiian pink snapper, in a immensely flavorful miso-based broth with hints of ginger and lemongrass. At the bottom of the dish he hid a pork hash with a surprise ingredient of chestnuts. It was paired with the Chandon Yountville Vintage Brut -- an excellent pairing, and one of the best of the night.

A dinner of this quality would hardly be complete without some sort of fois gras and leave it up to a chef from California to seize the opportunity.

Chef Jason Fox of Commonwealth in San Francisco served a plate of Ginuea Hen with spring peas, young turnips, wheat berries, potato-seaweed cracker and foie gras emulsion. Though not the most memorable dish we tasted last night, the turnips were a true gift -- so tender and sweet we could have mistaken them for candy. Fox's course was paired with the Domaine Chandon Chardonnay. Though I usually have a strong bias toward Napa Valley chardonnays this wasn't the strongest wine in the Chandon repertoire.

If any one ever tries to tell you the seats next to the kitchen are the worst in the house, don't believe them -- at least not when you're talking about an open kitchen on an event night. Our seats on "the rail" of deseo's open kitchen gave us a front row seat to all the action. We marveled at how much fun the chefs had working in close proximity and helping plating each others food.

How often do you get a chance to see so many culinary stars at work, and having such a good time doing it?

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria