Taste Best Of Rim Country

Chefs offer up specialties to benefit Payson library

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Photo courtesy of David James/www.jamaxpublishers.com

Maggie Evans of Verde River Rock House Bed & Breakfast will have monster strawberries and Belgian chocolate again at this year’s Taste of Rim Country event, plus something she calls “lambcicles” and a surprise.

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Early in the morning, Leonie Dobbins is already hard at work preparing items for eager customers who will be dropping into the Red Elephant Bakery & Cafe.

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Steven LeMonier, the chef at the Good Samaritan Majestic Rim senior apartments, stirs the pot of goodies that will soon grace the palates of the residents.

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Andrew Winiecki prepares another batch of muffins at Gerardo’s Italian Bistro. Winiecki learned his skill the old-fashioned way, by washing dishes and working all jobs in the kitchen, finding he had a passion for pastries.

Payson will be a foodie’s Mecca this weekend. Fans of good food and culinary adventurers descend on the Payson Public Library Saturday night to sample the showcase wares of professional and aspiring chefs of the Rim Country.

The participating chefs share a love of food and a deep sense of community spirit, contributing all the ingredients, their time and talents to help raise money for the library.

The 2010 Taste of Rim Country is a chance for those attending to also help the library, meet and support area food professionals, have some fun and maybe win an auction item.

Only 250 tickets will be sold to this year’s event, which takes place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, March 6. Tickets cost $30 each, with half of that amount qualifying for a tax deduction. As of Tuesday afternoon, tickets were becoming limited, but some may still be available today (Friday, March 5) and Saturday morning. Remember the library closes early Saturdays.

Those attending the Taste of Rim Country will enjoy food from Chili’s, Creekside, Gerardo’s Italian Bistro, Majestic Rim, The Randall House, The Red Elephant Bakery & Cafe, The Rim Club, Verde River Rock House Bed & Breakfast, the Thai restaurant to be opened at the corner of Highway 260 and Manzanita and the student chefs of Payson High School. Plus guests may take part in a silent auction for lots of great gifts, including such things as a Doggie Gift Basket prepared by Terry Morris, library director with homemade doggie treats and $1,000 airline voucher.

Call (928) 474-9260 for details.

Gerardo Moceri will be featuring his protégé at the Taste of Rim event. Andrew Winiecki started work for Moceri’s restaurant almost four years ago. Guests at Gerardo’s have been enjoying the talents of Winiecki for several years. Moceri is proud of the young man who has expressed such an interest and dedication to learning the craft.

That dedication is evident in that his on the job training has only been supplemented by studying recipes at home. Winiecki, who is 19, said he started cooking at home when he was about 15 and was inspired by his family.

His first job was washing dishes and now he is a master at all the food preparation stations: starting with the pantry station, which was then followed by the pasta station; sauté station and then the pizza station and working as a liaison between the kitchen and wait staff.

“I started doing dishes and then learned the back prep. I learned all the doughs and sauces and then started learning the desserts and found my passion,” Winiecki said.

He said he would someday like to have his own bakery. Winiecki said he also loves cooking seafood, especially shellfish and has had quite a few compliments from customers for his mussels.

The most complicated dish he has prepared so far has been poached pear in apple wine and handmade Marsala sauce, served with Italian shortbread. “It was pretty labor intensive,” he said.

The hardest part of the work is keeping everything fresh and the right temperature for serving, Winiecki said.

His personal favorite dish is the vegetarian lasagna his mother makes. His family likes his pumpkin ice cream the best of all the dishes he makes.

He loves cooking and hopes to pursue formal culinary education at some point, but he is also drawn to computer science, so would like to find a way to mix the two and someday write a cookbook.

He said he is very thankful for the help he has received from Moceri and the rest of the people at the restaurant.

Winiecki plans to share a seafood appetizer and either gelato or cannoli at Taste of Rim Country.

Winiecki is not the only young person participating in the Taste of Rim Country. Once again the young people in the culinary arts program at Payson High School will be sharing their skills with library patrons and foodies Saturday night.

The students plan to serve taco cups and peanut butter cheesecakes. This is the fourth time they have been invited to participate in the event.

Leonie Dobbins, owner and operator of The Red Elephant Bakery & Cafe participates in Taste of Rim Country as a way to help the library. She is fine tuning what she plans to bring to the March 6 event.

Since the last Taste of Rim Country, Dobbins has been growing her business. The shop is now open for both breakfast and lunch, has expanded the teas, coffees and other drinks it offers, and has started offering cooking classes. The first class was maxed out; a class on chocolate was held March 2 and another class is planned for March 9 on spices and herbs.

Dobbins has also seen the number of requests for her wedding and other cakes increase.

The Red Elephant Bakery & Cafe, at 1101 S. Beeline Highway, Payson is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and has a private room for groups of up to 12.

Kenny Tassell, manager of Chili’s, said he plans to share the restaurant’s new soups — a vegetarian sweet corn soup and a chicken, green chile and avocado soup.

“Taste of Rim Country is a great experience and always has a great turnout,” Tassell said.

“It’s good to see more chefs each year,” he added.

Tassell said there is some benefit to his business, especially the thanks the guests give for the participation of the chefs.

“All the chefs donate their time and food to help with the library’s fund-raising effort. I am thankful to the community for coming out to support the event,” he said.

Maggie Evans of Verde River Rock House Bed & Breakfast will have monster strawberries and Belgian chocolate again, plus something she calls “lambcicles” and a surprise. She also said they will have an eclectic décor at their table. This year, those attending the event will get to vote on their favorite table scape, said Bessie Tucker, coordinator of the Taste of Rim Country for the library.

Evans and her husband, Steve, see the event as a chance to get out and socialize, she said.

Their bed and breakfast has been doing well, she said. It is booked almost every weekend and often during the week. In fact, it is booked the weekend of Taste of Rim Country, so Evans is providing her guests with tickets.

“They’re foodies from Casa Grande, so were thrilled,” she said.

The growing success of the Evans’ Verde River Rock House Bed & Breakfast has made it possible for the couple to help promote Payson, Pine and Strawberry, the Tonto Natural Bridge and the Rim Country.

Evans said she frequently sends guests to The Randall House in Pine, which will also be taking part in the 2010 Taste of Rim Country, and to Dobbins’ Red Elephant Bakery & Cafe. She said she will even send some people to the Majestic Mountain Inn and other hotels in the area.

The Evans’ bed and breakfast, promoting the area, will be featured in an upcoming publication by Jamax Publishers, “The Foodie’s Guide to Arizona.” It is also in one of the Borders’ “smart box” units, Gourmet Retreats; and it will be featured in a television show in the future.

The winner of the 2009 Taste of Rim Country Kevin DeWitt is returning from a brief sabbatical to once again participate. He is now chef for The Rim Club’s restaurant, which will officially reopen in April. The library event is a chance for DeWitt to help promote The Rim Club restaurant’s “dining memberships” to the public.

Steven LeMonier, the chef at the Good Samaritan Majestic Rim senior apartments, may be showcasing some of the special dishes designed by his boss with Morrison Senior Living. He said the company’s head chef has created special software that will let men and women in LeMonier’s position mix and match a variety of dishes that will provide the precise nutritional values needed by their clients and scale the recipes to make more efficient use of ingredients.

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