(Photo Courtesy of Joanie Simon)
By Susie Timm, Head Cheese
Each year I look forward to the Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner held at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa as part of the Scottsdale Culinary Festival. And when I say “look forward” I mean, I count the days off on a calendar leading up to this stunning event that truly reigns supreme as the very best culinary event in Arizona.
This year the anticipation was high as the event was held about a month prior to the actual Scottsdale Culinary Festival and once again the Westin was kind enough to extend me an invitation to this the 11th annual event.
The concept is fairly simple: renowned chefs from around the United States are invited to participate in preparing a 6-course dinner that kicks off with a reception on the Westin’s grand patio with sparkling wine and starter appetizers.
After a few glasses of one of my favorite sparkling roses (etoile rose by Chandon) and some tasty bites created by the Westin’s Chris Masco and Roberto Madrid, we headed into the dining room to enjoy a feast of epic proportions.
The meal was again, simply superb. Combining unique flavors, very expensive ingredients and of course the talent of chefs like Douglas Rodriguez, Alan Wong, Jason Fox, Jason Wilson, Perry Hoffman and Nicole Plue.
We sat at the “rail” inside of deseo and were able to watch the true symphony that is 20 chefs plating six courses for over 100 guests. It is an art to accomplish this feat and I enjoyed watching every single minute.
Course number two was the absolute standout in my mind. I cannot recall clearly if I have ever tried Opakapaka, the Hawaiian Pink Snapper in the past, but I will remember each and ever bite of this dish for years to come.
Chef Wong of Alan Wong’s Restaurants on Oahu is a master and genius. This dish is unlike anything I have tasted in recent history. The snapper was perfectly cooked and very mild and creamy. However, I was smitten with the homemade ramen broth with truffle and Hawaiian butter that surrounded the dish as well as the “pork hash” that it was nestled upon. Complimented by the subtle flavors of green onions, ginger and peppers, I cannot say enough about this dish. A menagerie of flavors, perfect texture and frankly, if all 6 courses were iterations of this dish, I would have been elated. (though the rest of the meal was indeed outstanding)
I told Chef Wong that I would be willing to fly to Hawaii the next day just to try this dish again and of course his other famous creations.
Overall, the dinner will live in infamy as one of my all-time favorites. If you have never attended this event, I highly recommend you get out your calendar and start a countdown for next year’s event. It’s a nearly life-changing Mecca of food.