Food Lovers Prepare For Annual Culinary Event

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The Rim Country's top culinary notables are sharing their talents for a benefit to raise money for the Payson Public Library.

"We're so excited about this fund-raiser," said Library Director Terry Morris. "It will help us achieve our goal of enlarging your library."

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Linda Weber, owner of the Fireside Espresso, will participate in the annual Chef's Extravaganza fund-raiser. The event is hosted by the Library Friends of Payson, and the proceeds will benefit the library expansion project.

The Library Friends of Payson and the Payson Roundup, will co-host this savory event -- A Taste of Rim Country. It's a slice of urban culture to enrich the local rural charm, featuring a wine tasting, unique desserts and tempting appetizers.

A Taste of Rim Country is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Tonto Apache Community Center.

And though tickets aren't available until early January 2007, planning is under way and the library seeks volunteers and other participants.

Tickets are $30 per person -- 50 percent of which is tax-deductible, and proceeds will benefit the Payson Public Library Expansion Project.

"A small library is a cornerstone in a growing community," Morris said.

The $1.4 million library expansion project is designed to fit the growing needs of Payson.

The plan calls for a 5,500-square-foot wing stocked with wireless internet access, 20 computer terminals and plenty of extra space.

"We want to be able to put the books back on the shelves to where they belong," Morris said.

So far, the Library Friends of Payson have raised about $150,000.

Last year, the Chef's Extravaganza garnered $5,637.

"We felt that it really went well last year," said Donna Hopkins, a friends volunteer. "We have much more lead time and many more chefs participating this year, which will let us doing interesting things."

As the expansion project comes to fruition, the library will hammer out the dollar details with the town. Morris said the group will model the funding on the first project -- the friends will pay for the interior furnishings while the town takes care of the building shell.

The 2007 Chef's Extravaganza participants include: Mike Kitts from Cedar Ridge Restaurant; Olive Matus from Creekside Steakhouse; Gerardo Moceri from Cucina Paradiso; Linda Weber from Fireside Espresso; Diane Frederick Bedsworth from Payson Regional Medical Center; Leoni Dobbins from The Red Elephant; Trent Rowley from The Rim Club Restaurant, Tamara Logsdon from Rimside Grill; Jan Marnell from Strawberry Lodge; and Greg Hart from Zane Grey Dining Room at Kohl's Ranch.

Editor's note: The Payson Roundup will feature each chef participating in the 2007 Chef's Extravaganza in the weeks leading to the event. Watch the Friday newspapers.

Chef profile

Linda Weber, co-owner of Fireside Espresso, has cooked all her life. Even so, to support her family, she worked as a registered nurse, specializing in labor and delivery. Nearly a decade ago, though, she decided to pursue her passion for food. Weber attended the Colorado School of the Rockies where she earned a chef's degree.

"It was the best time of my life," she said.

Last year, Weber and her son Michael moved to Payson from Southern California and bought Fireside Espresso. She'll take her talent for quiches and baked goods to the Chef's Extravaganza.

Linda Weber, Fireside Espresso

What's your favorite dish to cook? Why?

Jampasta (Jambalaya Pasta). It's delicious and quick.

What do you love to eat?

Italian food -- anything.

Do you enjoy cooking for pleasure?

Yes. It de-stresses me.

What got you into this business?

I used to work for a caterer in California in the form of a coffee shop. I decided to try it on my own.

What is your worst chef disaster?

Almost cutting my finger off with my new knives ... Murphy's Law.

What's the hardest part of your job?

Trying to get everything done on time without having a nervous breakdown.

What do you love most about your job?

The people and knowing how happy they are with the end result.

Tell us one thing about being a chef that people don't know?

It's not glamorous, but it's tremendously rewarding, creative and fun. It make me happy.

Is there a trade secret that every person who cooks should know?

Season everything well. Experiment with different flavors. Be creative.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become a chef? It's good to know the basic cooking skills. But don't be afraid to try new things again. Be creative.

What challenges or benefit do you face working in a small town like Payson?

People's tastes differ, which makes it difficult to please everyone. I try.

What is in your refrigerator at home?

Not much. I buy as I need ... certain things for those recipes.

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