The Library Friends' annual Mayor's Cup Chefs' Competition which will cook up its much-anticipated 2002 edition Saturday evening has accomplished a lot over its four-year existence.
But the most notable achievement of this event, perhaps, is that it has rewritten the old saw about how the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach.
As it turns out, the stomach also is the speediest route to the hearts of women and children.
How else can one explain the contest's popularity which did not grow over time, but was an instant hit before the first edible entries were even masticated?
"That first year was more successful than anyone could have imagined," recalls Library Friends President Judy Buettner, organizer of the competition. "We sold 350 tickets right off the bat. I had to run around to all of the participating chefs to find out if they could handle that many people. They told me I needed to stop selling tickets. By the time I got the word out, we had sold 425!"
And about $6,500 was raised for Library Friends, the Payson Public Library's volunteer fund-raising organization.
"I really feel that first year was the catalyst for the Library Friends," Buettner said. "It raised our credibility, it gave us so much press, people began to take us seriously, and we began getting more and more contributions from all over the country."
Thus far, the money Library Friends has raised with the Chefs' Competition and other efforts has been invested in the new library building and 16 computers; over $300,000 went to its furnishings; and some $60,000 was spent for new shelves.
"What we want to do now is to continue the building fund," Buettner said.
"In time not right away, but in time there will need to be an expansion of the library. It's designed to be expanded. So any big chunks of money we get will go to that cause."
Even with this year's ticket-sales cap of 450, the latest edition of the Mayor's Cup Chefs' Competition is guaranteed to bring another "big chunk of money" to Buettner's organization. In the meantime, everyone who gets in is guaranteed the most palate-pleasing good time yet, thanks to an increase, from last year's nine to 11, in the number of culinary competitors.
The participating restaurants and caterers can either choose between the two Chefs' Competition categories appetizers and desserts or enter both, as most have done, Buettner said.
This year, returning entrants will be the Black Bear Restaurant and Lounge (in the appetizer category), Macky's Grill (appetizer and dessert), The Randall House (dessert), Payson Regional Medical Center (appetizer and dessert), Sesame Inn, (appetizer and dessert), Christopher Creek Landmark (appetizer and dessert), The Rim Club Chaparral Pines (appetizer and dessert), and the Pine caterer My Thyme is Yours (dessert).
First-time hopefuls will be Cucina Paradiso, Alden Manor Inn and the Swiss Village Cafe, each competing with both appetizers and desserts.
By the way, don't bother asking Buettner for a preview of the incredible edibles all these chefs will be whipping up.
"I deliberately don't ask them what they'll be making, because I don't want to know," she said.
Buettner is happy, however, to dispense a few tips for attendees:
"No. 1, when you come in the door, you can turn right or left to find food," she confided. "For some reason, most people enter through the right-hand door, head for the first table they see, and start forming a massive line around the gymnasium.
"We don't want that to happen this year. We want people to know that they can go straight to the table that looks most interesting ... and start enjoying."
Also, attendees who don't wear cocktail attire may end up feeling like a pair of brown shoes in a world of tuxedos.
"We encourage that, because there just aren't many opportunities to dress up and attend an elegant affair in Payson."
And here's one last tip: "Be sure and vote," Buettner said. "Some people say, 'Ohhhh, it's all so good, I can't make up my mind,' and they go home without voting. Well, they've got to vote for favorite taste treat and favorite presentation. That's why we call it a competition, for heaven's sake."
The 2002 Mayor's Cup Chefs' Competition
Competition will be held Saturday, Feb. 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Tonto Apache Community Center. Musician Paul Penning will set the aural ambiance, and various members of the Payson Art League will donate between 20 and 30 paintings for raffle.
If there are any advance-sale tickets left (none will be available at the door), they can be obtained for $20 each at the new Payson Public Library in Rumsey Park, and include a complimentary wine goblet along with admission.
Before heading to the library with high expectations, however, find out if there are any remaining tickets by calling the Library Friends' Jackie Ricker at 474-9456 or Judy Buettner at 472-9015.