Events

Highlights from the 2018 Devour Culinary Classic

Kai served smoked trout on chumeith bread at the Devour Culinary Classic this weekend.
Kai served smoked trout on chumeith bread at the Devour Culinary Classic this weekend. Patricia Escarcega
The Devour Phoenix Culinary Classic, which took place this weekend at the Desert Botanical Garden, has come a long way in its almost 10-year history.

What started out as a modest gathering in downtown Phoenix has evolved into a perennially sold out event. This year, after eight years at the Phoenix Art Museum, the two-day food and drink festival has moved to the sprawling, lush grounds of the Desert Botanical Garden.

Change, in this case, feels like a good thing. The garden's meandering paths and trails help thin out the crowds, and create a slower, more relaxed pace. With more space than ever, organizers are beefing up the weekend schedule with more art, music, and foodie lectures. This weekend, festival goers were treated to wandering performance artists, Mexican folkloric dancers, wine tastings and Q&As, and live music throughout the garden.

One thing that hasn't changed, though, is the overwhelming array of food and drink.

If you didn't catch the Culinary Classic this year, here are some of the highlights from the last day of the festival. For our take on the first day, check out our Saturday write-up.

click to enlarge Kai served a red kuri squash cake as part of its VIP tasting menu at this year's Devour Culinary Classic. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
Kai served a red kuri squash cake as part of its VIP tasting menu at this year's Devour Culinary Classic.
Patricia Escarcega
Four-Course Tasting Menu at Kai

Festival VIPs this year were treated to one of the most impressive Devour spreads in recent memory: a four-course mini-feast from Kai that started with an aperitif (a cucumber fizz drink made with Thumb Butte sage gin); a Three Sisters course featuring a gorgeous bite of smoked ocean trout served on an earthy huitlacoche chumeith, a traditional Native American bread; and braised bison loin served in Ga'ivsa, a subtly sweet cracked corn porridge. The final course: a delicate and earthy red kuri squash cake.

click to enlarge Tako yaki hush puppies from The Dressing Room. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
Tako yaki hush puppies from The Dressing Room.
Patricia Escarcega
Tako Yaki Hush Puppy with Sriracha Tomato Jam from The Dressing Room

The Dressing Room's featured bite — an octopus fritter, served on a stick like a mini corn dog — was fun and delicious. The dish deftly walked the line between tako yaki, a classic Japanese street food, and deep-fried Southern comfort food. The octopus fritter, with its thick batter, was made for dipping into a side of shiso aioli, or a dab of some spicy Karashi mustard.

click to enlarge Clever Koi served saucy, braised chicken feet at this year's Devour Culinary Classic. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
Clever Koi served saucy, braised chicken feet at this year's Devour Culinary Classic.
Patricia Escarcega
Sichuan Braised Chicken Feet from Clever Koi

Shout-out to Clever Koi for serving beautifully saucy, braised chicken feet at this year's Devour Culinary Classic. The feet, richly marinated in a funky, spicy sauce, were slow-cooked to produce a lovely balance of sinewy, meaty and crispy texture. "Be careful, there's bones," the friendly host at Clever Koi warned as she handed me my plate. A single foot yields many bones, but also lots of flavor.

click to enlarge Deseo served an impressive octopus anticucho at the Devour Culinary Classic. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
Deseo served an impressive octopus anticucho at the Devour Culinary Classic.
Patricia Escarcega
Anticucho de Pulpo from Deseo

Chef Derek Biazo and the team at Deseo, the upscale pan-Latin restaurant at the Kierland Westin Resort in Scottsdale, served a lovely grilled Spanish octopus anticucho in one of the festival's VIP lounges. The popular South American street skewers are often paired with a boiled potato, and here it was a papa criolla slicked in a creamy, vibrant aji verde sauce. Like any good street skewer, this one was hard to pass up.

click to enlarge There were many memorable desserts at the Devour Culinary Classic, including District American Kitchen & Wine Bar's freshly made waffles with ice cream and maple-flavored cotton candy. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
There were many memorable desserts at the Devour Culinary Classic, including District American Kitchen & Wine Bar's freshly made waffles with ice cream and maple-flavored cotton candy.
Patricia Escarcega
Maple Cotton Candy with Bacon Ice Cream and Waffles from District American Kitchen & Wine Bar

District American Kitchen & Wine Bar has been known to pull out all the stops for the Culinary Classic, crafting multiple dishes and designing elaborate displays of food and drink. This time around, the restaurant's biggest head-turner happened to be dessert — thick, extra-fluffy waffles covered in bacon ice cream and feathery tufts of maple-flavored cotton candy. What might have been an impossibly sweet dish turned out to be a touch savory, and plainly delicious.

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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.