Scottsdale Culinary Festival, Day One: 5 Things Worth Weathering the Storm For

Categories: Events

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​Today
's Great Arizona Picnic at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival was the least attended we've seen in years, owing to the disconcerting weather forecast, grey skies and chill in the air. Vendors were bundled in thick hoodie sweatshirts and wool gloves, and even patrons inside the Southwest Festival of Beers -- already warmed by alcohol -- huddled around a few scattered heat lamps in hopes of getting warm.

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Our only consolation was that lines for Macayo's, Bombay Spice, Lucille's BBQ and even New Belgium Brewing Company were short, leaving more food & drink for the non-wussies who braved the cool, wet day.

The scene inside Cooks & Corks was a little brighter. Though it wasn't quite as jam-packed as last night's Eat, Drink and Be Pretty Party, enough people turned out that a line soon formed for Cafe Zuzu and Heidi's Catering, snaking around the scattered hi-top tables at the back of the arts center. 

What were the highlights of today's fest? Find out after the jump...    

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One of Yellowtail's chefs puts finishing touches on the paper-thin kobe beef.

Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant and Lounge's Kobe Beef Carpaccio:"It will change your life," said Susie Timm of Girl Meets Fork as we approached Yellowtail's table. Even if you're not a fan of raw meat (sushi or otherwise), it's hard to ignore the assault of flavors coming from their thin-sliced beef. The texture was remarkably light and airy; the flavor a beautiful meld of citrusy yuzu, salty soy and the slight garlic and fresh tomato flavor of the delicate milk-soaked chips on top. We heard audible sighs as the table was picked clean of beef by 2:30 p.m.

Green River Sake: "Wow, this is so smooth," remarked one patron after tasting Green Rivers' snow-aged Japanese rice wine. According to Executive Director Chris K. Masuyama, that's because it's brewed like standard grape wine, without the subtraction or addition of water as with other sake products. The bottles are then aged in an igloo in Northwestern Japan. Too cool, right?

Jewel of the Crown: Of the restaurants featured at the Great Arizona Picnic, this really was the crowning jewel. Bombay Spice's chickpea ceviche is downright addicting, but the fragrant

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It's hugs all around for Chef Aaron May.
​aromas of garem masala and other Indian spices wafting from this booth were mouthwatering. Their chicken tikka was savory and refreshing, with just a tingle of heat. Add to that ultra-friendly service and huge portions that were well worth investing in a GAP card (in lieu of food tickets).  

Food Network's Robin Miller: Chef Michael DeMaria and Danny Freeman of Barbuto (who stood in for Top Chef Masters' Jonathan Waxman) were entertaining enough, but nutritionist and author Miller put a decent-sized audience at ease by making us all feel like we were sitting in her kitchen chatting over pot roast. 

She comes off as charming and humble, qualities that are rarely found together in restaurant chefs. When one audience member asked if she grated a block of parmesan for a dish, she quipped, "Ideally I would, but today I didn't do anything!" On the local front, Chef Aaron May had a similar attitude, walking around hugging friends and chatting with strangers after his outdoor cooking demo at the Great Arizona Picnic.

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Trader Vic's hamachi & ahi cocktail was good, but it couldn't stand up to Zuzu's comfort food.
​Chef Charles Wiley's Butternut Squash Ravioli
: Comfort foods from Into the Soup's chicken soup to sweet potato tamales were a hit on this brisk, windy day. Our favorite was a soft-filled handmade pasta from Hotel Valley Ho's Cafe Zuzu, topped with porcini coriander butter sauce. The combination of earthy mushroom and sweet squash was beautiful; both flavors took turns dancing on our tongue, washed down by the white wine tang of the butter sauce.    

The one disappointment: Not enough sweets

Trends this year included raw and seafood items, Asian cuisine and Southwestern comfort foods. Oddly, today's Cooks & Corks featured virtually no desserts, while the Eat, Drink and Be Pretty Party held just sixteen hours earlier in the same space was cluttered with sweet treats from liquor-infused ice cream and huckleberry cream shooters to Cathy's Rum Cake. Today, guests had to travel outside to the Great Arizona Picnic to indulge in Gelato Spot, Italian ices or cake truffles -- but we were hoping for a few more innovative chef-driven desserts. Then again, there's always tomorrow.

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Cheap mini cupcakes from La Dolce Pesca.
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