Earlier in March, the Arizona Department of Tourism hosted a dinner in conjunction with Golf Digest and Bon Apetit magazines in Chicago highlighting the flavors of Arizona. The dinner's menu was created by local James Beard Finalist Chef Kevin Binkley and Chicago Chef Sarah Grueneberg (a Top Chef finalist) and was held at her restaurant, Monteverde. Sphinx Date Company Palm & Pantry was prominently featured during the meal, with a special course created by Chef Binkley as well as with our dates in the gift basket presented to all the attendees.

Local food blogger Joanie Simon was an ambassador at the event and joined us for a Q & A about this incredible experience.

SDC: Why is it important to showcase all Arizona has to offer from a culinary perspective to other major cities?

Joanie:  Arizona agriculture and food culture is widely misunderstood. Even foodies from major cities like Chicago have a limited view of our culinary offerings, thinking that it’s all cactus and cowboys. Certainly, we have plenty of both of those, but helping expand the understanding of what Arizona has to offer to people in major cities helps our economy and our national recognition as a culinary destination. Food is a significant component of the decision-making process for someone looking to travel. Knowing they can find unique food experiences in Arizona brings more tourism dollars to our great state.

SDC: What kind of feedback did you hear at this event about the food or about Arizona specifically?

Joanie:  The majority of people I spoke with at the event were impressed with the diversity of Arizona both in terms of culinary opportunities as well as travel experiences. They were excited to know that we're more than just red rocks and chain restaurants. Too, they were surprised to find out from Chef Binkley's presentation, the incredible quality of produce, livestock and wine that come from Arizona. From Black Mesa Ranch's pork to Sphinx Dates to Pillsbury Wines, they were blown away by a truly memorable meal.

SDC: How were Sphinx's dates incorporated into the menu?

Joanie:  Chef Binkley served the dates a part of the passed hors d'oeuvres. He set off their unique sweetness with a creamy truffled cheese fondue and a crispy, salty ham. It specifically showcased the dates and was a wonderful opportunity for conversation with guests, sharing the unique history of the Sphinx Date Company.

SDC: Any other general comments about this event? 

Joanie:  As people were leaving the event and received their gift baskets that included a variety of Arizona products, including Sphinx Dates, they commented how truly exceptional this event had been. From the food to the people to the products, Chicago's finest foodies have a new perspective on Arizona.

For more of a recap - check out Joanie's podcast here: http://joaniesimon.com/scp-episode-4-chicago-chef-adventures/