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Culinary celebration set for Quartermaster Depot March 11-13
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 2/28/2011
YUMA, ARIZONA – Thirteen years ago, Yuma Lettuce Days started out simply enough: celebrate the agriculture industry with a festival. Call it “Lettuce Days” because this is the nation’s winter veggie capital -- then watch as tens of thousands of folks paid homage to the fields of green that surround the town all winter. But over the years, the festival devolved into more of a street bazaar. Nice enough, but not distinctively green and leafy …
Fast forward to 2011 – with the growth of the slow food and locavore movements, new emphasis on healthy eating, and TV culinary shows and competitions as mainstream as sliced bread – and Yuma Lettuce Days is knee-deep in greens again with a fresh new “foodie” focus.
“We are bringing Lettuce Days back to its roots and adding a brand-new culinary twist,” explained Kristan Sheappard, the director of sales and marketing for Yuma Visitors Bureau. “We’re celebrating Yuma agriculture by showing the whole picture, from field to fork.”
With that in mind, the YVB has booked myriad culinary events for this year’s Lettuce Days fete, set for March 11-13 at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, along with food-related vendors and exhibitors, a farmers’ market operated by Yuma Community Food Bank, farm equipment displays, a special “Kids Ag-Tivities” area, and narrated bus tours of growing areas (Friday and Saturday only, $5 per person to cover bus cost). Thanks to major sponsorship from Foothills Bank, admission to the new, improved version is still free all three days.
Among new Lettuce Days features will be cooking demonstrations by a quartet of “celebrity chefs,” along with appearances by aspiring local contenders. The celebrity chefs include Amy Finley, the third-season winner of “Next Food Network Star”; Ray Duey, a nationally renowned fruit and vegetable carver whose haunted house created from intricately carved pumpkins was center stage at The White House last Halloween; Randy Foster, an award-winning executive pastry chef who opened both the Mirage and the Mandalay Bay properties in Las Vegas; and Yuma-grown cookbook author, Kelley Cleary Coffeen, whose new “300 Tacos” cookbook is due out this spring.
For those who want to do more than watch cooking, there will be a special “Recipe Box Tasting Event” from 1-5 p.m. Saturday (March 12), where a wide array of local restaurants will offer a nibble of this and a nosh of that – all for one price. The key to open the Recipe Box will be a $10 wristband that permits its wearer to sample the wares – along with a lineup of New Belgium Brewing Company beers and wines from Yuma’s Main Squeeze, a “custom winery” that makes and bottles wines in the historic North End using juice from grapes grown elsewhere.
Participating restaurants include Burgers & Beer, Da Boyz, Esther's Good Eats, Garden Café, Hilton Garden Inn, Ironwood Steakhouse (The Q Casino Resort), Jeannie Wah’s, La Fonda, Main Street Café (Somerton), Market Wine Bar Bistro (Radisson Yuma), Papa Murphy’s, River City Grill/Ciao Bella and Turtle Bay Cafe. Other restaurants likely will be added to the mix, so a taste from each will make a full meal of small bites. Recipe Box tasters also get a trip through Lettuce Day’s famous “longest salad bar.”
Amateur chefs also get their moment in the sun at Lettuce Days, with five different cooking contests, including a “Some Like it Hot” Salsa Competition; a “Dinner Date” contest that challenges cooks to use locally grown Medjool dates; a “Drinks With A Twist” matchup of unique cocktails employing local citrus or melons; Fry’s “Bring It On Family” competition, where mom’s tamales might be matched up against grandma’s chocolate cake -- and even a special Dole’s “Kids Healthy Living” contest for fresh treats created by aspiring chef ages 7-13. There’s no charge to enter and entry forms and rules are online at www.yumalettucedays.com.
In a sense, Lettuce Days is just the heirloom tomato on top of a wildly successful new agritourism initiative Yuma launched just this season. YVB’s special “Field to Feast” bus tours sold out faster than expected; the café in the little farming town of Somerton holding “Cooking with Sabor” classes has added extra sessions; weekly farmers’ markets are jammed with locals and tourists alike; and tourists are packed into date garden parking lots a lot like, well, dates.
“Here in Yuma County, agriculture is our number-one industry and tourism is number three,” said Sheppeard. “Bringing them together was a natural fit – and interest is only growing.”
"People really want to know where their food is coming from, and farmers have their own message to get out about food safety and other topics," Sheppeard said.
"We're really excited about the 'new' Lettuce Days," Sheppeard added. "It's a perfect venue to showcase the importance of our agriculture community - and to do it in a fun, family-friendly - and really delicious - way. What better time to come down and get a taste of what's fresh in Yuma?"
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