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Meet the presenting chefs of Yuma Lettuce Days
Put a rainbow on your plate, learn a tasty kale or grilled lettuce dish, and maybe see a potato turn into a rose with the chefs demonstrating their expertise at Lettuce Days.
The celebrity and local chefs who will bring their talents to the festival include:
Yuma offers plenty of options for a chef that prefers to source locally grown ingredients. That's delicious news for Ben Ford.
The Southern California-based chef, soon-to-be-published cookbook author and Lettuce Days headliner is known for using locally raised ingredients to create the cuisine at his restaurant, Ford's Filling Station, and he'll be bringing that approach with him to his upcoming Yuma demonstrations. Kicking around in his creative chef's mind are grilled lettuce salads, a dish with pasta made from local durum wheat, maybe the bacon-wrapped dates that do well at his Culver City, Calif. gastropub, and more.
When he was new to the culinary world some 25 years ago he had the fortune of working with mentors who embraced local, organic food, he said. The joys of being closely connected with his food stuck.
Ford's trip to Yuma will be his first since he accompanied his father, actor Harrison Ford, here when the elder Ford was shooting “Return of the Jedi” in 1982. Chef Ford's other appearances have included “Iron Chef America,” “The Today Show,” “Martha Stewart,” “After Hours with Daniel Boulud,” “Jaime Oliver's Food Revolution,” “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” “Supper Club with Tom Bergeron,” and “The Food Network Sandwich Challenge.”
In addition to cooking, teaching and eating, he's looking forward to meeting with farmers, who he said are some of his favorite people with their slower pace of life but hard work.
Ford will give demonstrations from 11 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. During the final demonstration, he will help judge the “sassiest salsa” contest to decide which salsa pairs the best with a recipe he'll have prepared especially for Lettuce Days.
And lettuce, that leafy green celebrated with this festival, isn't just for salads. Not just the familiar but simple iceberg, lettuce enjoys a diversity in tastes and textures and also lends itself to being braised or put in soups.
“It's healthy and it can be quite tasty,” Ford said.
Avail yourself to kale with local cook Melissa Behunin.
Behunin said kale, a leafy green from the cabbage family, is “a trendy food people are hearing a lot about but don't know what to do with it.” She'll give folks one idea by taking to the Lettuce Days cooking stage to demonstrating her curry almond dressing.
Behunin, who is also a professor of family studies at Arizona Western College, said she came up with the recipe when she was preparing dinner for vegans – people who don't eat any animal products – and people following the “paleo diet,” which attempts to mimic ancient man's high-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet by being limited to foods that can be hunted, fished or gathered.
Her dish is quick and easy, using raw kale rather than something boiled into green goop. She's also a pretty big fan of the creation, describing it as “yummy,” “divine” and appealing to people who follow all kinds of food regiments.
“It is gluten free, sugar free, dairy free,” Behunin said. “Basically, people with dietary restrictions can enjoy this along with carnivores.”
Behunin will showcase her command of kale from 10:30 to 11 a.m. on Sunday.
Ray Duey has never given his wife real flowers for Valentine's Day. Why would he, when he can carve roses out of potatoes?
Duey has made a career out of the mesmerizing art of fruit and vegetable carving, traveling the nation and world with his special knives demonstrating and teaching his craft. He's appeared on the Food Network (a February episode of “Sugar Dome” featured the California-based maestro teaming with cake and sugar artists). He's carved at the White House. And, for the third year now, he will be carving in Yuma.
Duey, who is also a certified executive chef, didn't plan to enter the world of food sculpting. About 30 years ago, he was working as a kitchen helper for a private party when the chef demanded he make some decorative carvings. He protested, and was told his job was on the line if he didn't come up with something.
He doesn't remember what he carved, but what started as a necessity turned into an obsession.
“Who would have seen this coming?” he said during a recent interview, multitasking as he prepared chicken orzo soup for a church function. “Not me, not a chance.”
Duey sees things differently now, as artists tend to do. Many people will peruse the produce section with a salad in mind. He sees a radish and a bell pepper and how they can make a candle. Olives and frozen peas can make bumblebees. Cucumbers and cranberries can make holly leaves, and squash and pepper can make poinsettias.
It gets more intricate than that. With a few similarly skilled friends and a line of pumpkins some 14 feet deep, he conjured a dragon. And once, “I did The Last Supper out of five different watermelons.” He also carves in ice and cheese.
One frequent medium is the humble russet potato, which he can turn into a rose in less than four minutes (synchronized to the Bette Midler song, “The Rose” – he's not just an artist, but a showman). The rose is a popular routine. He's made about 4,000 or 5,000 of these, give or take.
At a fair once, he held audience with a woman who was rendered speechless and sobbing by his rose act. He handed the woman his creation, and her husband pulled him aside to say that she had only a few months to live and that just made her day.
Duey continues to be humbled and inspired by other carvers, whose work he considers “so unbelievable, so radical, so out of the box.”
Check out Duey throughout the day both Saturday and Sunday. Also, visit www.chefgarnish.com to get a preview of his work.
Make your plate a palette that speaks to your palate, and more importantly, your health, with local cooking instructor Jean Myers.
Myers is a long-time instructor for Yuma's popular Food for Life Cancer Project cooking classes, which teach people how to adopt a user-friendly, plant-based diet that she touts as being ideal for preventing cancerous cells from forming in the body. It's also good for health in general, as Myers has said in the past, with connections to lowered cholesterol levels, weight loss, a boosted immune system and better blood-sugar levels in diabetics. Plant-based diets include fruits and vegetables in addition to whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
Her Food for Life Cancer Project courses, which are free, are scheduled in six-week sessions year round and sponsored by the Yuma Regional Medical Center Foundation.
Myers was still planning her Lettuce Days agenda at press time, so catch her on the cooking stage from 1 to 2 p.m. Sunday, following the Color Your Plate contest, to find out what she's bringing to the table.