The fourth annual Dinner with Chefs at Casino Del Sol's PY Steakhouse is spotlighting Southern Arizona farmers and letting the farmers make the menu as well as cook their creations for the guests.
"People really care about what they're putting in their bodies these days," said Ryan Clark, executive chef of PY Steakhouse. "Having the guest chefs be the actual farmers, the guest will see the story on how the relationship between the farm and restaurant is put together."
Clark says the Dinner with Chefs experience is like none other and this year's installment is sure to please. When dining guests arrive, both the guest chef and Clark discuss the inspiration behind each dish that will be served as well as how the dish is prepared. Of course, each dish is paired with wine that complements the experience.
"You don't always get that when you go out for a dining experience," Clark said. "It's something you can only get at Dinner with Chefs."
Past Dinner with Chefs events featured everything from local chefs, celebrity newscasters, coaches from professional sports and regional libationists. Each month a new guest chef is featured. This year, Chef Clark said he's excited for this edition because he'll get to showcase the farms and farmers he's been working with for the past nine years at Casino Del Sol and his previous employer, Lodge on the Desert. Local and regional farmers scheduled at this year's series include Anne Loftfield of High Energy Agriculture, Elizabeth Sparks along with Becky Yim from Tucson Village Farm, Barbara Eiswerth with Iskashitaa Refugee Harvesting Network and many others.
"The menu we put together is their idea, whether it be their background, time they spent in a kitchen or what they enjoy to make at home," Clark said.
Kicking off this season is Erik Stanford, owner of Pivot Produce, a company he started that works directly with local farmers to source their produce to local restaurants. He and Clark have been working together for the past three years.
"I thought Erik would be a great person for this season because he helps tie together the relationship between the farmer and chef or restaurateur," Clark said. "He does a really great job in Tucson mending that gap, delivering all that produce directly from the farm to the backdoor of a kitchen."
Stanford started his culinary journey at 14 by working as a dishwasher in restaurants back in his home state of Wisconsin. When Hurricane Katrina hit three years later, he left home to help with volunteer efforts. That's where Stanford really started to learn about cooking, he said. After a few years traveling the country, Stanford found a new home in Tucson, working for Hotel Congress' Cup Cafe in 2009. A few years later, he was running the kitchen at local brunch hotspot, 5 Points Market and Restaurant. While at 5 Points, he began cultivating relationships with local farmers that eventually led Stanford to open Pivot Produce in 2015.
"As someone who used to work in the restaurant industry and has stepped away from it, I'm really excited to get back into the kitchen," Stanford said. "Rather than just be the guy who brings them their vegetables, I'll get to know their kitchen a little better and develop those relationships further."
Stanford's menu spans his culinary background, from using top-notch Wisconsin sharp cheddar cheese he says "gets put on everything back home, even apple pie" to colorful purple, yellow and green cauliflower, grown by Blue Sky Organics in Phoenix, symbolizing his time in New Orleans. He also says he'll feature a few ingredients native to the desert southwest.
"For the dessert, we're bringing in foraged ingredients from the Sonoran Desert like chiltepin to give it a little spice as well as emory oak acorns I milled myself," Stanford said.
Stanford said he's also excited to present his culinary story to the public. He doesn't usually get the opportunity due to working as an aggregate between farms and restaurants.
"I talk a lot about farms and food and vegetables, but not necessarily talk about myself too much or my culinary experiences," Stanford said. "This should be a lot of fun."
Dinner with Chefs Farmers Dinner Series at Casino Del Sol's PY Steakhouse begins Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m. Reservations start at $75 plus gratuity. For more information please check out www.casinodelsol.com.