Ignite Food: From Homemade Bacon to Home-Brewed Beer, and Justin Beckett's Eat-A-Thon

Editor's Note: By all the accounts we've heard, the inaugural Ignite Food was smooth as butter -- except, ironically, for the food. While it was available before the event began, apparently word didn't spread to the crowd. And so by intermission there was a giant line for what we hear were wonderful offerings from Tracy Dempsey, Pittsburgh Willy's, Petite Maison, 24 Carrots, and Loaded Cupcake. Easily fixed next time, we're guessing -- and we're hoping there is a next time. Chow Bella contributor Carol Blonder was lucky enough to snag a ticket at the last minute (thanks, Ty Largo!) and reports her impressions here.

Tickets for Monday night's first Ignite Food event in Phoenix sold out like a rock concert -- in less than one hour. More than 400 Valley food enthusiasts filled Stand Up Live at Cityscape to listen to 16 local presenters share their food and spirit inspirations Ignite style: with a microphone, in five minutes, illustrated by slides.

The participants took a comedy cue from the Stand Up venue; regardless of the topic, each presentation was highlighted by humorous personal anecdotes. What we in the seats learned was as much about the speaker as their culinary-inspired passion -- be it microbes or microbrews.

There was a call to action by Chef Charleen Badman, now known as Lunch Lady Badman, whose first slide of Frito pie initiated us to her personal struggle with unhealthy food habits -- a chef who nurtured others through food while neglecting her own health. Badman called out for chef volunteers to help her infiltrate school cafeterias and change kids' attitudes and appetites for healthy food choices, as she has her own.

Another recruiter, Dominic Armato, wants you to sign up for his Food Nerd Army, "an army of people interested in a killer plate of food" to help discover and promote the small independent restaurant operators that often fall below the media radar.

Chris Petroff
and his family of pint- sized gardeners are "Herbanizing" Phoenix one backyard garden at a time. Petroff turned on our olfactory memories as he waxed poetic on the smell of the earth first thing in the morning. Cowboy hat clad Paul Schwennesen leaped further than the backyard garden, coming back to the land and promoting life on a farm.

Another champion of farms, Monica Woolsey recommended farms over pharmacies, reinforcing the health benefits of colorful vegetables. Cinder McDonald was cheerful in the face of her frustrating health-related food restrictions and taught us how she learned to dine delightfully in spite of them. Salt sommelier Aaron Eckberg spread the word on the finer nuances of salt varieties and their ability to bring out the best from fresh ingredients to a cure.

Bradley Lusk made us take a look at our guts and the microbes inside. If Lusk and the researchers at The Biodesign Institute are on the right path, the microbes living in our digestive tracts may someday aid in medical diagnoses and treatment. (Yes, there was a slide with poop.) Bill Mar took us on a ride beyond astronaut ice cream with food preparation and the Apocalypse.

Before the end-of-the-world scenario and a diet of survival food, we opt for Chef Justin Beckett's Eat-A-Thon, conquering 36 restaurants in 24 hours. Tips for an Eat-A-Thoner included by Beckett: "Take only one bite of any dish at a restaurant no matter how good it is." We would like to see a Beckett Eats The World in 80 Days tour next.

Homemade was a theme from bacon to brew. Cisco Saavedra's insights into the joy of offal were easily understood until viewing the slide of his family ritual of chasing the kids with a whole cooked cow's tongue. In spite of the visual, we would like his grandma's recipes along with Zach Garcia's recipe for homemade bacon.

Home brewer Derek Slife got his start as an early age. Underage and unable to purchase beer, he convinced his parents to help him procure a brew kit beginning his love for hops. He left us with his wish (a hint to the sweet chefs in the audience) for hops ice cream in his near future.

The Breadfruit's Dwayne Allen gave us an eye-opening lesson of rum and the Americas with an annotated slide show that would have woken up any sleeping slacker in American history class. (As in the Boston Tea Party was really a tea and rum party?) And Jason Miller taught us the correct pronunciation -- Glenfiddi-CK not Glenfiddi-CH, along with other fine points of whisky and kilts.

We roared along with Brian Sun as he shared his life long burrito obsession, the distinguishing features of burritos worthiness, and his insight into the naming of burrito joints: easy enough, just add "ertos" to your name.

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Carol Blonder