New Ripe Awards Rotten for Some Foodies

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For most folks, the 2013 Ripe Awards, "a selection of five of the Valley's edgiest chefs," probably garnered as much attention as the also-rans at this year's Golden Globes. After all, a new culinary award program takes time to develop, even when, as in the case of Ripe, it's likened to "a James Beard award, but way more hip and uniquely [Phoenix]" by its public relations firm.

See also: OpenTable Announces 100 Best Restaurants in America: Arizona Nabs Four Zagat's 10 Best Restaurants in Phoenix and Scottsdale

But last week, upon hearing the announcement of Ripe's five chef-winners, the snooze turned into sneers from Valley foodies. Many are crying foul at some of the selections and claim the new culinary awards show is nothing more than a marketing vehicle for a local public relations firm.

Selected by the Phoenix Art Museum's Men's Arts Council, Ripe's "edgiest" chefs for its inaugural year are Bernie Kantak (Citizen Public House); Josh Hebert (Posh); Charleen Badman (FnB); Greg LaPrad (Quiessence and Morning Glory Cafe); and Silvana Salcido Esparza (Barrio Cafe and Barrio Queen).

No big surprises there -- selected for their expertise and passion, all five already are award-winning chefs and no strangers to local and national media attention.

But some in the food world see a different scenario. Many are saying that, given Ripe's public relations agency, Salt, whose clients include (or have included) three of the winning chefs' restaurants, the awards show is a conflict of interest. And, since the agency did not disclose its relationships with Citizen Public House, FnB, and Quiessence beforehand, the event could be seen as tainted and nothing more than yet another marketing ploy.

A statement from Ty Largo, principal/creative director at Salt, had this to say:

"Salt was hired by the Men's Arts Council to help plan the awards event and celebrate their picks for 2013. Salt was not a part of the selection or nomination process. We work with some of the best culinary talent in the state, so it shouldn't be a surprise that two of the winners happen to be our clients -- in fact, one of the winners is also a former client and Salt will be there to support him just the same as our current clients in the process of promoting the Men's Arts Council and the Ripe awards.

We are experts in the hospitality, dining and lifestyle industry. Our clients are the best in the business and we're proud to help them earn national spotlight to support the local culinary scene. Salt is proud of all the winners that were selected by the Men's Arts Council."

Who suffers most from the Ripe controversy? Sadly, it's the winning chefs. Although completely deserving of their award, the five chefs are now in an awkward position of straddling celebration and skepticism.

A Ripe awards event will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 31, at the Phoenix Art Museum, and will include tastings from the Ripe chefs, Arizona wines, cocktails, and a silent auction. Tickets are $65 and can be purchased at Ripe's website.

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