Category Archives: Wining & Dining

Taco Fest Declares Winner… Chef Dave Conn

Distrito Mahi Mahi taco

Arizona is definitely a foodie’s paradise… despite what some of the critics might say, we serve up some tasty food (a road trip crisscrossing the state will certainly prove me right), and we have a knack for taking a really good invention — like the taco — and making it WAY better.

So it’s not surprising that cities across our state play host to various culinary events, which focus on the art of food… however, when I heard about this particular event, I was intrigued.

The Second Annual Taco Festival, held on October 15, brought out pros and amateurs alike to battle it out for a $7,500 prize… and, of course, bragging rights. Scoff if you will, but this event not only brought out around 10,000 people, but it was a serious competition for some folks… and for the Grand Champion, the event was a sort of coming out party.

Chef Dave Conn — the Chef de Cuisine for three dining destinations by Chef Jose Garces, including Distrito at The Saguaro in Downtown Scottsdale — and his team took down the competition and set the stage for things to come at Distrito… like really good food.

Below, Conn talks about his big win and why the taco has been elevated to an art form.

What team were you on? How many people were on your team?
I competed in the Arizona Taco Festival with my colleagues from Distrito at The Saguaro. Distrito is a modern Mexican restaurant owned by Chef Jose Garces, who also created our menu (including the tacos), and The Saguaro is a new boutique hotel opening this November in Scottsdale. Distrito will be open in mid-December. In all, 8 people joined our team for the Taco Festival.

You’re a well-known chef… Why decide to compete in a taco making competition?
Well, actually I work with Chef Garces, who is well-known across the county for his amazing restaurants and as one of seven Iron Chef’s on the Food Network. As a team, we participated because it seemed like a great way to introduce ourselves to our new neighbors here in Scottsdale. Not to mention that it was a lot of fun!

What do you say to people, cynics, who are like, ‘it’s just a taco?
Two words: try one.

What sets your taco apart from the masses?
Our tacos are made from top quality ingredients and prepared relatively simply; the slow-roasted ropa vieja chicken and fresh toppings really shine that way.

So, what does this win mean to you, your career?
I am looking at this win as a warm welcome from our new home and an invitation to settle right into the Scottsdale food scene. We’re thrilled to be here.

What did you win?
The overall prize for Grand Champion; we also took the second place in the chicken and beef categories. And of course, we’re thrilled to have the signature ‘really gaudy trophy,’ as well.

Why is the taco being elevated to an art form?
All food is art, if it’s done right. Tacos are just finally getting their day in the sun.

Why is street food becoming so popular? What’s this shift all about?
Street food is authentic, flavorful, easy to eat and affordable – what’s not to like about that?

 

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PHX Food Truck Festival… Get On This Wagon

It’s the latest trend in gourmet food… food trucks. Yep, and if you haven’t had your lunch handed to you through a food truck window, you haven’t lived — truly.

Well, if you haven’t noshed on tasty eats from food truck (or you happen to REALLY love food truck eats), then you ought to check out the first EVER food truck festival happening this Saturday from 4-11pm on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. Tickets cost $30.

Think about it:

30 trucks.

Good, local food.

Live music.

Beer and wine garden (courtesy of Four Peaks Beer Truck and Dos Cabezas Winery).

Pure bliss.

OK, so while some people are in the food-truck-know, a lot of people just don’t get this trend that is blanketing the country… well, we thought we’d ask the man behind the mobile food movement here in Phoenix just what the fuss is all about, why people should hit up the festival and why these food trucks are NOT roach coaches…

Brad Moore is both the president of the Food Truck Coalition and one of its co-founders, and he and his wife own Short Leash Hotdogs (really yummy hotdogs made from Schreiners Fine Sausages and local ingredients, all served up on naan bread). Besides dishing out dogs from his truck with his partner-in-crime, Brad is also responsible for the creation of Food Truck Fridays in downtown Phoenix…

Check out our Q&A below:

So, this is the First Annual Food Truck Festival. How did it come to be?
We have an organization called The Phoenix Street Food Coalition and we are quickly growing. The members had the goal of having a festival and when Cindy Dach approached us with the possibility, we jumped on it. The partnership with her organization (Roosevelt Row CDC) has been remarkable, and without them it would not have been possible. They have helped us with the funding, organization and the basic support in believing in what we are building.

What can folks expect from this Saturday’s fest?
We have tried to learn from the big cities with hundreds of food trucks and what they have done with their festivals. What we have heard is that people would have to wait in line for tickets and then wait in line again for one truck’s food.

So, we are making this a more interactive event. Instead of full menus, we will be offering samples to encourage the customers to roam from truck to truck. It’s basically all you can eat. We will also have Four Peaks Beer Truck and Dos Cabezas Wine available for purchase. The purpose of our organization is to promote responsible street vending and collaboration. This event is a celebration of how far we have come and how much we have done as a group and we want people to taste each of our truck’s food.

OK, food trucks have had a pretty bad rap — how are you or how have you overcome that?
To be a member of the Phoenix Street Food Coalition, you must meet our requirements and we vet each of the applicants based on the following: Concept and menu, independently owned and not a national franchise, the food must be specialty in nature, which includes scratch-made or artisan, and focused on local production in Arizona. All vendors are required to have 30% of their menu comprised of products produced in Arizona, must have a valid Maricopa County Environmental Service Permit, and all members must be compliant with city and state regulations. We believe that these standards set us apart from roach coaches and are changing the way the people view street food.

How does one get into the food truck business?
Jump and pray! Seriously! You have to do a lot of foot work. We have set up some basic check lists and details on our coalition website, but people really need to do their research. It’s interesting how many people come to us with $2000 and idea, but no research has been done. It costs a minimum of $50,000 to start up this kind of business and it is a lot of hard work. I always tell people it’s easiest to come up with a menu and work from a detailed business plan. This will help you determine the kind of truck you need and what equipment and will help you budget your food costs.

The festival sounds like a pretty good deal, what all is included in the ticket price?
It’s a great deal! You can eat from 26 trucks, plus there will be beer and wine for sale. We also have a full line-up of music hosted by Stinkweeds.

Any food trucks or brands I may have heard of?
We are proud to announce that we (Short Leash Hotdogs) just got awarded “Best Food Truck” in Phoenix this year by Phoenix New Times, Sweet Republic was voted USA Today’s top ice cream for 2011 and the Hey Joe truck won the “2011 Big Brain” award from the “Phoenix New Times.”

Food trucks have really taken off in PHX, what’s the appeal?
It’s funny, they haven’t taken off at the same speed of other cities. Our city is cautious, but loyal. They like what they like, and they really have to warm up to the idea. We started this group with five companies and have grown to 30, but have lost four along the way. In my opinion, the appeal for our particular group is that we are responsible, locally focused and have excellent products.

Do you think it’ll continue to grow?
It will keep growing and it’s interesting to see how the different cities will respond to the regulations and the trends. We have between 4-to-8 people approach us each week with their ideas and plans, and we have seen many of these people start the process. I expect to double that number by this time next year (or sooner).

You obviously have a coalition of food trucks, what’s next?
We have many locations that we are planning to develop or are in the process of developing. What we want to see is some permanent locations for trucks to go and be able to set up at all times — so you can always find truck food. We are hoping to unveil a location for this soon. We also want to do several more festivals and events.

>>Image provided by Brad Moore

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Does Arizona Need An “Official” State Food?

Arizona has a lot of “official” things… there’s our “official” state neckware: the bolo tie; our “official” state reptile: the ridge-nosed rattlesnake; we even have an “official” state gun: the Colt revolver. So it only seems fitting that we have an “official” state food… and fortunately for my belly and yours, two family-owned restaurants — Macayo’s and El Charro — are already making a BIG push to have the chimichanga be just that.

And yes, you read that last line right… the chimi.

For those of you who are not familiar with the chimichanga, a chimi (local speak) is, essentially, a deep-fried burrito… OK, this may not sound impressive, but what is kind cool is that the chimi was actually developed here in Arizona — or so claim the folks behind Macayo’s and El Charro. According to an article in the Tucson Citizen, “Each establishment lays claim to creating the chimi (1946 for Macayo’s and 1951 or ’52 for El Charro), but they’re putting their differences aside to promote the ‘Check Yes for Chimi’ campaign.”

Talk about a house united when it comes to food… two rival restaurants joining forces so Arizona can lay claim to the chimi. Alas, Check Yes for Chimi may already be in trouble…

According to the Tucson Citizen:

Facing a down economy, a pile of state debt and an election year, lawmakers are in a somber mood. “When you deal with a lighthearted bill like that, people think you’re not keeping your eye on the ball,” said Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix. He recalled the derision that greeted Rep. Frank Pratt’s bill last year to make milk the official state beverage. Lawmakers soured on that idea, and the bill went nowhere. It took three years for the Legislature to approve a bill making “the Grand Canyon State” Arizona’s official nickname. It passed this year.

Politics aside, taste is another serious issue… and by taste, I mean palate… again, per the Tucson Citizen:

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said the T-bone steak would be a fitting state food. Fry bread would be a better option, Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said. It would honor the state’s Native American culture. (South Dakota claimed fry bread in 2005.) Or perhaps the raspado, a Mexican snow cone. Driggs suggested the burrito as a healthier option.

Um.

Who knew the chimi would such a divisive issue?

Anyway, tell us what you think about the chimi being our “official” state food on Facebook

Flickr pic by Ario

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Tuesday Trivia… Read it Here

Photo taken by Paul Markow

In case you missed yesterday’s Tuesday Trivia (BTW, congrats Sharon Schnitzius Scholl), we asked which rocker-turned-winemaker is spotlighted in our October issue? Well, a lot of you knew the answer to that question: Maynard James Keenan. But for those of you who did not know, or for those of you who are just massively huge fans of that dude from TOOL, we thought we’d share the article about the rock star who is Quietly Making Noise in the Verde Valley.

Enjoy.

PS, Don’t forget to participate in our next Tuesday Trivia… Simply “Like” us on Facebook and you can play to win!

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In the Area… Prescott’s Cuppers Coffee House

I was on assignment in Prescott last weekend when I decided to check out Cuppers Coffee House on Cortez Street… I was staying next door and the place was buzzing… Since I hadn’t been before (and I love a good cuppa joe), I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Let’s just say the place is a definite must if you’re in the area. Not only does Cuppers serve up some really good coffee, the food is yum and the people working behind the counter are absolutely lovely (probably explains the “Best Staff” award).

I loved the Dirty Chai made spicy — think espresso and chai with milk. Their iced coffee was also a winner — full of flavor and wonderfully strong and vibrant… it’s the kind of coffee that helps start your day off on the right foot.

Oh, and if you’re hungry, try the BLT… talk about a really good BLT. Hey, when it comes to a BLT, it’s about the quality of ingredients… and Cuppers does not skimp.

Cuppers is situated in a cute little Victorian House just a block or two away from the court house… If you are staying at the Hotel Vendome like I was, it’s right next door… After spending an afternoon wandering Prescott’s antique shops, Cuppers is a great chill-out-and-relax spot, especially when they have live musicians performing on the porch.

Information: 226 S. Cortez St. Prescott, AZ 86303 • 928.445.1636

 

>>Flickr pic by tombothetominator

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In the Area of Sonoita? Then Visit Sonoita Vineyards

FACT. Arizona has wine country. FACT. Arizona produces very good wine. FACT. One of the state’s oldest wineries, Sonoita Vineyards, produced a Cabernet Sauvignon that was so impressive, it was chosen by national wine critics to serve at former President George W. Bush’s Inauguration Gala.

Fact. If you’re in Sonoita and you skip this vineyard, you’re missing out on something very special.

Located just 60 minutes from Tucson, Sonoita Vineyards sits on 25 acres of majestic Arizona countryside. The land here is lush and the rolling grasslands, which stretch all the way to the foot of the looming mountains, feels more like Old World Europe than Southern Arizona. There are several wineries and tasting rooms in the area, including the award-winning Callaghan Vineyards… also worthy of a stop (and a sip).

Sonoita Vineyards sits on a hilltop, and today winemaker Fran Lightly is producing wine using over 12 different grape varieties… think Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Mission and Zinfandel… and all of his juice is pure Arizona. Inside the property, oenophiles can stand at the bar, talk to Foster (he works part-time serving vino to the masses) and enjoy a tasting — or better yet, take your glass and sit down at one of the tables outside… the view is simply heaven on Earth.

Information: 520-455-5893 or http://www.sonoitavineyards.com

Image taken by Photo Editor Jeff Kida

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