A Taste Of Rim Country

Fund-raiser’s success shows community spirit

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Teresa McQuerrey/Roundup

Leonnie Dobbins, Maggie Evans and Chris Kaminski

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A Taste of the Rim

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Teresa McQuerrey/Roundup

Steven LeMonnier, Kenny Tassell and Milk Vergara

A decade ago a unique fund-raising idea was proposed to then-president of the Library Friends of Payson, Judy Buettner.

“Carolyn Wall told me about the Mayor’s Cup chef competition in Scottsdale,” Buettner recalled. It was the 1999 Mayor’s Cup Appetizer Competition with the Scottsdale Culinary Festival.

“She suggested we do something similar and send the winner of our contest to the one in Scottsdale.”

Thinking it was a great idea to help raise money to build the new library in Rumsey Park, Buettner put a committee together and they went to work.

“I think the Scottsdale event was in March. We started in January and had to work fast to get ours done before that to have someone go to theirs.”

Originally A Taste of Rim Country was called “The Payson Mayor’s Cup Appetizer Competition.” Buettner said there was not a lot of encouragement from the town’s mayor and no municipal financial support.

In spite of the lack of encouragement, the first Taste of Rim Country was almost more successful than the Library Friends and participating chefs could handle. About 500 tickets were sold, and more were wanted.

“People were calling the radio station trying to get them. People were calling me for tickets,” Buettner said.

Initially 11 chefs had signed up, but one dropped out, so there were 10 — and that has been the goal for each subsequent Taste of Rim Country event.

The Tonto Apache Tribal Recreation Center gym was rented and decorated. Wine was donated and arrangements were made for music. The first year, artists were also invited to exhibit their work between the chefs’ stations and all of them donated work for the raffle.

“I wanted to bring it up to a higher level of fund-raising,” Buettner said.

The winner of the first A Taste of Rim Country was the old Black Bear in Strawberry, and they went on to win the People’s Choice Award at the Scottsdale event.

Buettner said the event raised about $9,000.

While A Taste of Rim Country started 10 years ago, it cannot technically claim to be celebrating its 10th anniversary. A couple of years it was not held, Buettner said.

It was re-instituted by John and Sue Wilson, she said.

“Historically the money from the event has gone into our building expansion fund,” said library director Terry Morris. When it started, the library was still at the Womans Club on Main Street, Morris said.

However, for now, the current expansion project is on hold.

“Thank God we have our Library Friends,” she said. The group has taken over the book budget and is focusing on sustaining the library, Morris added.

She said A Taste of Rim Country is a great way for chefs to showcase their talents for the community and a terrific way for everyone to eat, drink and be merry.

Because of space limitations, the event generally features only 10 chefs and has only 300 tickets available for purchase at $30 each. And, as a rule, it has always sold out, Morris said.

“We really have wonderful support from our residents,” she said. Most of the guests at the event are from the area, but there are also people who travel to Payson to take part.

“One lady buys several tickets as birthday gifts for friends and they all get together at our event and make a party of it.”

Guests can come in any kind of dress and get to sample a large variety of wines. Morris said she collects the wine throughout the year, buying different kinds as they come on sale and storing them until the event.

Items for the silent auction are also collected and there is always some type of music. This year Fred Carpenter will be providing the music from his vast collection of recordings.

“People can go up to him and make requests,” Morris said.

For the second year, A Taste of Rim Country will be held at the Payson Public Library, 328 N. McLane Road, which gives people an opportunity to see what it has to offer, which is much more than books, Morris said.

The March 7 event is adults only, she said.

“It’s a great date night.”

The 2009 Taste of Rim Country is at 5 p.m., Saturday, March 7. Tickets are $30 each and are available at the library.

This year, organizers have signed up 11 participants. Among the establishments and chefs expected to participate are Judy Buettner for the Northern Gila County Historical Society; Creekside Steakhouse; Keven DeWitt of the Zane Grey Steakhouse at Kohl’s Ranch Lodge; Leonie Dobbins of Red Elephant Bakery; Maggie and Steve Evans of Verde River Rock House Bed and Breakfast; Chris and Rhonda Kaminski of R.C.’s Catering, Inc. and Majestic Mountain Inn; Steven LeMonier of Majestic Rim, the Good Samaritan Senior Apartments; Mandarin House; Payson High School Culinary Arts students Marissa Herrera and Chelsea Iverson; Kenny Tassell, senior manager of Chili’s; and Milka Vergara of Rim Country Health and Retirement Community.

“We’re excited and hope everyone comes out to enjoy the evening,” Morris said.

For details, call Bessie Tucker, event coordinator, at (928) 474-9260.

Judy Beuttner and about a half-dozen volunteers from the historical society will have Javelina Gingerbread Cookies at A Taste of Rim Country.

“We’re all home-grown cooks and are participating for the first time,” she said.

Buettner agreed to participate when she heard the response was slow and she wanted to help the Library Friends. She feels a special connection to the library because of her efforts to help get the new structure built during her tenure with the Library Friends of Payson. And she was the president of the group when the first A Taste of Rim Country was held.

Leonie Dobbins said she is a big supporter of the library.

“Wherever I am, the first thing I look for is a good library,” she said.

Maggie Evans said she has gone to A Taste of Rim Country and loved it. She decided to get involved as a chef participant when she was approached at a reception she catered for her friend Matalyn Gardner at Artists of the Rim Gallery. “Someone handed me a card and encouraged me to get involved,” Evans said.

Chris and Rhonda Kaminski are participating to show off Chris’ skills on behalf of their catering business and Majestic Mountain Inn.

Steven LeMonier wants to keep the trophy for A Taste of Rim Country at his establishment. His predecessor Karl Schaller won the trophy last year.

The PHS culinary class representatives are taking part because they will be the only members of the group in town on March 7.

Kenny Tassell of Chili’s is in the event because community participation is important to the Chili’s family, he said.

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