Run, don’t walk, as we give away 24 free tix to the Scottsdale Culinary Festival. Plus see a hilariously-dated slideshow of the SCF over the past three decades, and learn just what it takes to feed 40,000-plus hungry patrons at the Valley’s tastiest food extravaganza.
Now entering it’s 33rd season, the Scottsdale Culinary Festival (April 5 – 10) is one of the nation’s longest-running food affairs. Featuring 12 events spread over six food-filled days, the SCF attracts than 40,000 hungry patrons a year. Plus, the entire event doubles as a non-profit fundraiser for local arts and arts education programs, which is more important than ever as state funding continues to dry up for these ‘non essential’ programs. So we thought we’d put in a call to the Scottsdale League for the Arts (SLA), and speak with Executive Director, Joe Zanovich about what it takes to put on this wildly-popular event, from the super-ritzy AZ Culinary Hall of Fame Dinner, to the flip flop-friendly Great Arizona Picnic.
How did the Scottsdale Culinary Festival come about and has the SLA been involved from the get-go?
Yes, back in 1978 the SLA, then called the Scottsdale Men’s League (it was a different time), launched Taste of the Nation, as it was known then, as a way to raise funds for the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. By 1992, the League expanded our support to other worthy arts programs across the state, and in 2002 we added a grants program so that any qualifying non-profit can apply for the approximately $350,000 in funding we hand out annually.
Help us feel better about all the greasy-good food we’re going to scarf down at the Great AZ Picnic by telling us which worthy organizations we’ll be supporting?
Aside from the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, the SCF supports everyone from Ballet Arizona and Arizona Opera, to Free Arts of Arizona. Then there are smaller but equally amazing programs such as Rosie’s House, which is a music academy for underprivileged children. It’s an opportunity these kids could not get otherwise and their lives are forever changed for the better.
How has the SCF changed over the decades?
Well, for one, it was originally small enough to be held inside the lobby of the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, and now we host events across Greater Scottsdale. Looking back, we also did some really wacky events such as the Waiter’s Race (pictured), where waiters literally raced around obstacles while balancing bottles and glasses on a serving tray. We’ve also had some amazing honorary chairmen over the years such as Jacques Pepin, Vincent Price and Robin Leach.
How many people does it take to pull something like this off?
Believe it or not, but we have exactly two full-time staffers here. However, we rely heavily on our volunteer base of about 55 SLA members. All total, including restaurant staffers, vendors, security and volunteers, it will take nearly 3,000 people to pull off this year’s event.
Finally, if we put you on the spot and made you pick one favorite event, which would it be?
If there’s one event I’d actually like to attend, it’s the Best of the Fest on Sunday evening. Eleven of the Valley’s best chefs will be there cooking live and interacting with a very limited number of guests in the courtyard of the Scottsdale Hyatt Regency. Each chef creates a five-course meal they’ve spent weeks pairing with fine wines, and the winery representatives are there as well. I always hear it’s an amazing time, but I’ve never actually been because I’m on-site at the Great Arizona Picnic all day long. But one year …
So who’s hungry and wants to attend this year’s fest on our dime? Simply write the year of the the first ever Scottsdale Culinary Festival in the comments board below, and we’ll randomly pick 12 winners*. We have 10 passes to Sunday’s Great Arizona Picnic (good for two people) and two passes to fashion-forward the Eat, Drink & Be Pretty Party.
Good luck and bon appetit.
*Contest entrants who have not signed up for our free daily email magazine, Scoop Factory, will be automatically signed up so they will be the first to hear about our next giveaway. (We never, ever, never share any email addresses.)