Ladies and gentlemen, start your stoves.
Rim country chefs will have a chance to compete for statewide recognition when they meet for a cook-off Feb. 27 at the Tonto Apache Reservation community center.
The public will have a chance to sample the chefs' wares that evening and turn in ballots to select a Rim country representative to the Mayor's Cup Appetizer Competition in Scottsdale April 16.
Up to 1,000 people attend the annual upscale Scottsdale competition, which concludes with a number of awards presented by a panel of judges. The evening competition is one of many events held in conjunction with the week-long annual Scottsdale Culinary Festival.
To prepare the local winning chef or chefs for the event, appetizers will be the order of the day at the Payson competition.
The February fund-raiser is sponsored by the Library Friends of Payson and the Payson Roundup to benefit construction of a new library at Rumsey Park.
Library Friends President Judy Buettner said letters went out to area restaurants last week and several businesses have responded. She said the chefs are excited about the opportunity to compete and to present their favorite dishes to the public.
Buettner said she hopes to have about 10 participants responding by the cutoff date of Jan. 15, but more are welcome.
Restaurant owners or chefs who are interested in joining the competition who have not received letters can call her at 472-9015 to discuss their participation.
The competition is open to local on-staff chefs at restaurants and catering companies only, but the event is open to the public.
Anyone seeking to savor the samples can purchase tickets in advance for $15 per person. Tickets will be available at the Rim Country Chamber of Commerce, the Payson Roundup, and at Michael's at the Inn of Payson.
Michael Barnhart, of Michael's at the Inn, participated in the Scottsdale event last year after being selected to represent Payson by Mayor Vern Stiffler.
He described the Scottsdale event as "very well organized.
"A lot of work goes into the event by everyone involved," he said. "I think the set-up is almost as important as your appetizer."
Barnhart said the six awards went to Valley restaurants and most of the dishes incorporated lobster or shrimp.
"The most prestigious award was given by all the chefs there," Barnhart said. "We thought our ballot box was stuffed pretty good, but we didn't win any of the awards."
That isn't stopping Barnhart from attempting to compete again this year, however. "It was very good exposure," he said. "We were on Channel 3."
Barnhart said he has an idea for what he hopes is a winning appetizer "but it's a surprise." He said he welcomes the local competition and figures it will be good for the local restaurant industry.
After the competition last year, Stiffler said he heard from other local restaurant owners who said. they wanted a chance to compete for the Scottsdale Mayor's Cup Award this year.
Stiffler turned the responsibility of selecting a representative over to the Payson Library Friends who came up with the idea for the local competition.
Buettner said the group hopes the Library Friends of Payson Mayor's Cup Appetizer Competition will become an annual event which will continue to raise money for the library.
She said the local competition will help promote area restaurants and be a fun-filled night out for residents.
People attending the event will be able to sample any or all of the chefs' entries. A wine tasting is also planned for those who enjoy a little vino with their vittles.
Music and an art show complete the early evening entertainment which will run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
"I hope for a good turnout," Barnhart said. "I think something like this brings the restaurant community together."