Chefs' Competition Draws Taste-Full Crowd

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It was one of those things that people say when a special event concludes without a major mishap -- but in this case, it seemed to be an understatement.

"A good time was had by all," said Judy Buettner, president of the Library Friends of Payson and chair of the committee that organized Saturday's Mayor's Cup Chefs Appetizer Competition. The Payson Roundup and the Library Friends sponsored the event.

More than 350 people crowded into the Tonto Apache Tribe's Community Center for the first-ever contest.

At evening's end, it was the chefs from the Black Bear Restaurant in Strawberry who were jumping-up-and-down ecstatically and calling relatives on their cell phones. Their Cajun Shrimp was chosen as the crowd's favorite among the offerings of the 10 competing restaurants. The Black Bear will now represent Payson at the Scottsdale Mayors' Cup Chefs Appetizer Competition April 16.

Black Bear chef Dianne Skinner, chef's helper Jinjer Carter, and Cindy Windle, owner of the restaurant, served their Cajun Shrimp Cocktail with Cajun Crab Fingers from an elegant setting of crystal, china and flowers.

The offering was decorated with a vegetable flower of leeks, scallions, radishes and haba peppers.

"I knew I had a great product," said Skinner. "But I still can't believe we won."

Mayor Vern Stiffler presented the Black Bear trio with a plaque and the promise of a check for $250 from the Town of Payson to help defray their costs for the trip to Scottsdale. Other area organizations and businesses have pledged their help with expenses, among them, the Library Friends and the Payson Roundup, which will each donate $100.

Some 350 ballots were cast by the people attending, who paid $15 a ticket.

"Some did not cast their ballots," Buettner said. "They simply couldn't make up their minds."

Vice Mayor Ray Schum said he was only sorry that every one of the chefs couldn't be a winner. "All the participants were equally outstanding."

Schum said Monday that it was one of the better social events he's attended in the 10 years that he's been in Payson. "And I've attended quite a few," he said.

"I thought it was a unique thing to do, and I'd like to see it continue every year and, of course, it's for a good cause -- the new library," he said.

Schum said he enjoyed the opportunity to socialize as people walked around the large gym at the Tonto Apache Reservation comparing notes on the many taste treats that were offered.

United Beverage served up a selection of wine for tasting as nearly 400 people made their way around the perimeter of the gym, comparing notes and admiring the displays by the restaurants, local florists and artists.

In the background, Cindy Maken's keyboard artistry provided music to munch by.

A large ice sculpture of a swan decorated the table at Mazatzal Casino's display where the Mazatzal Duck was another crowd-pleaser.

There was a fountain at Bandana Annie's, along with the restaurant's tasty crab cakes.

The Small Cafe provided a whimsical display of fish encircling a rainbow of gelatin around a view of the Rim and another appetizer, a trout offering in a swirling sauce.

Surrounded by a homey setting of wildflowers and antique coffee pots and coffee grinders, the Randall House of Pine presented a smoked salmon, portabello mushroom cheesecake.

The Zane Grey Dining Room's Mogollon Bowls were filled with teriyaki chicken covered in a peanut sauce with mango salsa and fresh herbs.

Chaparral Pines' food and beverage manager, David Young, and his crew of six volunteers created a culinary setting for their grilled rock shrimp and pineapple salsa with a green chili parmesan polenta served over a mild mol
Jody Arnold, assistant manager of Macky's Grill, worked with his restaurant crew to provide catfish fingers and black bean pinwheels. "It was definitely worth the effort," Arnold said. "We had a lot of fun."

Across the room, the Oaks' presentation of goose patnd lobster mousse was a display by itself in a setting of bright red lobsters, toast rounds and accompanying side dishes.

I.T. Caterers' Ida Baltz and Trina Carroll presented Antipasto ala Delphi, created with sweet and dill pickles, green and ripe olives, mushrooms, pickled onions, tuna, anchovies, and fresh vegetables in a special sauce on hearts of romaine with mini bowknots.

Carroll said she was ready to compete again next year. "I hope they invite us," she said.

Buettner said there were some things that will be changed next year, but said she hoped all the competitors would return. "It was a learning experience, but overall, it went great."

Despite the hard work and the expense of providing food for the nearly 400 people who attended, the chefs seemed to enjoy the experience, as well.

"They enjoyed tasting each other's appetizers and there was a sense of camaraderie," Buettner said. "I saw several going up to the Black Bear's table and congratulating them. It did really get the restaurants and the chefs together."

Thousands raised for library
The event raised nearly $6,000 in ticket sales for the new library. A wildlife print donated by Founders Bank, presented at a silent auction, went for $210. Raffle items donated by area businesses brought in $375.

"I want to thank the people who bought tickets and came out," Buettner said. "To me, it was a very positive experience and we definitely will do it next year."

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