The 11th Annual Devour Culinary Classic took place over the weekend of February 22-23 at the Desert Botanical Gardens. The Valley’s award-winning culinary event was hosted by Local First Arizona, the Desert Botanical Garden, and Arizona Business Committee for the Arts.
The theme for this year’s Devour Culinary Classic was Mardi Gras and everyone was ready to laissez les bons temps roulez with colorful performance artists, lively street bands, and yellow, green and purple mardi gras beads. Waiting in the entrance line at 10 am, we were greeted with King’s Cake and NOLA Milk Punch, a morning sipper comprised of brandy (originally) or bourbon, half & half, simple syrup and vanilla extract.
In the VIP tent at Devour Culinary Classic, they kept the bayou vibes rolling, with Bar Magic serving French 75 and Hurricane cocktails, and Chefs Stephen Jones (The Larder + The Delta) and Justin Beckett (Beckett’s Table & Southern Rail) serving cajun dishes such as Jambalaya and Whole Roasted Pig Étouffée. The étouffée, while not judged alongside with the rest of the dishes (see below) because it ran out so quickly, was one of the best dishes of the event. Chef Jones hails from the Mississippi delta, and he wowed with this dish that was southern comfort lusciousness on a plate, packed with a savory combination of cajun spices.
During the two days of the Classic, over 60 restaurants served creative bites that were judged by a distinguished panel of judges, including the valley’s own Howard Seftel, former food critic for the AZ Republic, and Christina Barrueta, award winning blogger and cookbook author. Entrants were awarded medals that fell into five categories: Double Gold, Gold, Silver, Bronze and No Medal. Included in this post are some snapshots of the winners from Sunday only, along with my five favorite picks, which I hereby award with the prestigious TEXAZTASTE Tastiest Dish Award.
Double Gold Winners
Hana Japanese Eatery. Under Owner/Chef Lori Hashimoto, Hana consistently churns out winners at Devour, and this year was no exception. Hana presented 5 dishes: a Sake-marinated Mackerel; a Miso-marinated Radish with Camembert; a Lotus Root “Sandwich” with Shrimp and Shiitake; and a Charcoal-grilled Tsukune (Japanese chicken meatball) surrounding an oozy soft-boiled egg; and a Doughnut topped with Lemon-zested Red Bean Glaze.
Gallo Blanco. Chef Doug Robson brought his A game with his Cabrito (baby goat) Taco with Slivered Cabbage and Salsa on a homemade blue corn tortilla. Chef Robson, who grew up in Mexico City, spent his high school years in San Antonio, where finding good cabrito is an art-form, and this San Antonio girl awards Chef Robson with the first TEXAZTASTE Tastiest Dish Award.
The Wigwam Resort. Pork Belly with Turmeric Cream Corn and Sugar Snap Pea Salad.
Across the Pond. Coffee Cured Salmon with Ancho Coffee Cashew Crema. This nigiri was so simple yet packed with such delicate, delicious flavors and without a second thought deserves the second TEXAZTASTE Tastiest Dish Award.
Cotton & Copper. Root Cellar Chowder and Apricot Vinegar Pie. Chef Tamara Stanger delighted the judges with her two dishes to earn a Gold Award, and I thought that the Root Cellar Chowder, with winter vegetables, smoked seafood ‘nduja, dried tomatillos and nopales was so mind blowing good that it deserves the third TEXAZTASTE Tastiest Dish for sure. Good to note that Cotton & Copper churns out seasonal homemade soups and pies on a regular basis, so a stop by this Tempe eatery is a must.
Fellow Osteria. Sardinian Gnocchi with Octopus Sausage.
Sweet Republic. Pastry Chef Helen Yung was one of my favorites last year, and she did not disappoint this year with three dishes: Red Bean Ice Cream in a Krumkake Cone, Chicory Coffee Ice Cream in a Craquelin Choux, and Gin-and-Tonic Popsicle. The popsicle hit the right sweet and tart note for me and was my fourth TEXAZTASTE Tastiest Dish.
Citizen Public House/The Gladly. Of the four dishes served by these talented chefs, my favorite was the Chilean Crab Salad with Chile. The Cuban Nachos were super fun, (but aren’t any kind of nachos fun?), followed by a Duck Breast with Brussels Sprouts Slaw and Pasta Amatriciana.
The Dressing Room. Chicken Liver Pâté with Seasonal Jam and Pickled Mustard.
Fuego. Green Chili Cornbread two ways: Pernil Asado with Tomatillo Verde and Cola-Braised Short Rib.
Joyride Taco. Lamb Barbacoa with Poblano Grits. This dish deserved better than a silver…I loved the idea of using lamb for barbacoa instead of beef.
JW Marriott Tucson StarPass. Red Wine Braised Octopus and Potato Salad.
Piazza Romana. Roman Style Pizza with Sopressata and Hot Honey.
Sel. Little Neck Clam Ceviche.
Stock and Stable. Japanese Wagyu Meatball with Fish Sauce and Cucumber.
Wild Arizona Cuisine. Smoked Rainbow Trout with Spiced Tepary Bean, Nopales Kimchi on a Mesquite and Piñole Goat Milk Toast. Chef Brett Vibber recently closed Cartwright’s in Cave Creek to focus on this new concept, Wild Arizona Cuisine, opening TBD. As Chef Vibber is wildly talented, I would keep an eye out for him for sure.
Worth Takeaway. Buffalo Chicken Slider with Crispy Chicken Breast, Buffalo Sauce, Ranch and Bleu Cheese. This was the most under-appreciated dish of Devour. I thought this was packed with so much flavor and comfort that I award it with the fifth and final TEXAZTASTE Tastiest Dish Award.
Frites Street. A5 Japanese Wagyu and Black Truffle Shaved Fries.
J&G Steakhouse. Bacon Wrapped Gulf Shrimp with a Passion Mustard Sauce and Beef Tenderloin Bites with Waffle Chips. The tenderloin was delicious…was better than a Bronze medal I felt.
Modern Tortilla. Al Pastor (Pork) Tacos.
The Parlor Pizzeria. Chicken Piccata Ravioli.
Let’s Not Forget the Drinks
Let’s not forget the drink tastings at Devour Culinary Classic. Among the many wine options, there were also tequila tastings, infused vodka and festive spiked teas from Teaspressa, a popular tea shop making a buzz around the Valley with its quality teas brewed in a similar manner to coffee.
If you have reached the end of this post and feel like you missed out by not attending, never fear, for I am here for you. Tickets range from $150 to $250, and include admission to the incomparable Desert Botanical Gardens, all food and drink, and a commemorative lanyard and wine glass. For information on the garden and the classic, click here and here. Also, consider becoming a Localist by signing up at the Local First Arizona website here to read about the latest local foodie news around the state, including when tickets will go on sale for next year’s classic. xoM
All photos by Marci Symington for TEXAZTASTE.com.