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Fun family event kicks off March 1 & 2
YUMA, ARIZONA - Sure, Yuma Lettuce Days is all about the green stuff. But salad is just the first course at this agricultural "feastival" showcasing the diverse bounty of this fertile river delta - and the delicious dishes that can be created from it.
This year's headline chef is two-time Top Chef contestant Chris "CJ" Jacobson, now executive chef atGirasol, in Studio City, Calif. At Lettuce Days, CJ will present two live cooking demonstrations each day, backed up by an all-star talent lineup that includes a hometown gal turned cupcake baker, local chefs and even some school cooks who'll share their secrets for satisfying more than 22,000 hungry kids every day.
Also on tap, "kale gating," a beer garden, Kids' Ag-tivities, cooking contests, a farmers' market, fancy vegetable and ice carving, a salsa cantina where you can mix up a custom blend, plus a tasting event with beers, wines and an array of specialties from local restaurants.
The homegrown celebration kicks off at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park on the Yuma riverfront March 1 & 2.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, and tickets are $5, kids 12 & younger admitted free. Get the full schedule at www.yumalettucedays.com.
"People want to eat real food and they want to know where their food is coming from - that's what Yuma Lettuce Days is all about," said Linda Jordan, executive director of Yuma Visitors Bureau, the festival organizer. "We're highlighting the fresh and healthy produce Yuma delivers to all of North America during the winter months."
That makes Jacobson, whose menu at Girasol is a celebration of seasonal ingredients, a natural fit with the fest. A graduate of Pepperdine University and the California School of Culinary Arts - Le Cordon Bleu, he's traveled the world and worked behind the stoves at Axe, Campanile, Mercantile and restaurant Noma in Copenhagen.
"I am greatly excited to participate in this year's Lettuce Days," Jacobson said. "Vegetables are not only at the core of my cuisine but also some of my favorite things to cook - I can't wait to share some of my techniques and passion in Yuma."
Also demonstrating will be baker Lindy Caudle, a Yuma native who recently competed on the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars," and chef and cookbook author Stephanie Green, known for her gig as the "5-Minute Market Chef" at Old Town Farmers Market in Scottsdale. Back by popular demand is Chef Ray Duey, world renowned for the fanciful fruit and vegetable sculptures that earned him gold medal honors in a Food Network challenge - and lots of Yuma fans. Keeping their cool as the competition heats up will be ice-carving artists who quickly transform a giant block of ice into a frozen masterpiece worthy of a gala banquet.
If you work up an appetite watching others cook, you can fill your plate and please your palate at the Yuma's Recipe Box tasting event from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. For just $10 per person, adult tasters (18 or older) get a chance to sample specialty dishes from a dozen local restaurants, along with wine from Yuma's Main Squeeze winery and assorted Budweiser brews for those 21 or older.
Aspiring chefs can compete for restaurant gift cards ($100 first prize, $50 second prize) in three different cooking competitions: Kids Challenge, Vegetarian and Souper Healthy soups - download rules & entry form at yumalettucedays.com).
"Windshield" tours of Yuma agriculture areas narrated by local growers have been another Lettuce Days favorite - so much so that tickets usually sell out quickly. To feed the hunger for ag info, tours are scheduled for 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m.,1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., with a special kids tour (adult supervision required) tour at 3:30 p.m. Sunday tours are at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. To be sure of a seat at the time of your choosing, you can buy ag tour tickets in advance ($5 each not including Lettuce Days admission) at the Visitor Information Center, located at the Quartermaster Depot park, 201 N. 4th Ave.
Youngsters can enjoy Dole's Kids' Ag-tivities area with a slide and rock-climbing wall, plus a choreographed musical production featuring costumed characters.
Lettuce Days still being a festival, there will also be plenty of live entertainment, ag-related and assorted vendors and lots of fun food and drink, too, including a "kale gating" area and the popular "Toss it Up" salad bar sponsored by Tanimura & Antle and featuring its Artisan Romaine. You can meet and talk to area growers and shippers at the "Get your Ag Scoop" booth, sponsored by the Yuma Area Agriculture Council. In addition, there will be tractors and field equipment on hand, along with a farmers market full of fresh produce and other locally-made goods.
"We work hard to make sure that Lettuce Days has a little something for everyone," Jordan said. "Come on out and lettuce entertain you!"
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