COOK Phoenix

By Anthony Costello, Nov. 6, 2014.

For the third consecutive year, the Human Rights Campaign’s COOK Phoenix, one of the most diverse local food exhibitions, returns to the Valley Nov. 22.

From cooking demonstrations and appetizing samples to live entertainment and local businesses, COOK Phoenix will bring a festive atmosphere for a good cause to Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix.

The purpose of COOK is to embrace the local community and provide an environment that brings a sense of pride to restaurants and chefs while raising money for HRC.

“COOK raises funds to help fund HRC’s efforts to ensure a nation where every citizen is treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to

Natalie Cianciola, the event’s co-chair, explained that the idea for the event originated when an Arizona HRC committee member attended COOK Orlando three years ago and saw the potential of bringing the concept back to Arizona.

Following in Orlando’s footsteps, Cianciola said COOK Phoenix is the only second of its kind in the nation and with each passing year the event has grown and evolved. Cianciola added that 400 people are estimated to attend this year’s event.

This year’s event is similar to last year’s, in terms of format, except for a few entertainment and participating restaurants changes, she said. The popular craft beer garden returns this year with products from Hensley along with retailers and vendors — including HRC — selling merchandise.

The event’s entertainment line-up will feature several local performers, including What’s the Big Idea, a jazz band that will provide background music throughout the event; Tucson band The Borderline Sound; and DJ Musa Mind, who will be wrapping up the four-hour event.

This year’s celebrity chef is Barrio Café owner and Mexican cuisine connoisseur Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza.

Photo by Randy Bingham.

“I have the opportunity to preach my Mexican culture and say this is a diverse cuisine,” she said. “It’s a cross-cultural event … for me food is an art.”

The two-time James Beard Award nominee, who will host two cooking demonstrations, said her initial thought was to do a couple dishes per presentation, but admitted she may end up serving full-course meals.

Though the details remain to be decided, Esparza definitely plans on serving chiles en nogada, which is poblano chiles filled with picadillo and topped with pomegranate seeds, with a side of guacamole.

Esparza said she firmly believes in HRC’s purpose in uniting and giving back to the community, and that’s why she has yet to miss a COOK Phoenix event.

“HRC is very near and dear to me because it represents me, and advocates for me,” Esparza said. “Community comes first and with success comes responsibility.”

Among the other food vendors returning this year is Harley’s Italian Bistro which will be serving two dishes: traditional veal meatballs with homemade marinara sauce and polpette alla romana, a prosciutto parmesan meatball covered in a savory gorgonzola sauce.

Established in 1950, the former cobbler shop is now co-owned by Charolette Kimerly and continues to support several local organizations, including one n ten, Mulligan’s Manor, Aunt Rita’s Foundation, HERO and the Joshua Tree Feeding Program.

Harley’s is a staunch supporter of LGBT issues and holds a monthly Brunch with Benefits event that benefits different charities, Kimerly said.

Photo by Randy Bingham.

“We’re a local business, and we don’t get a lot of street visibility. Most of our business comes from word of mouth,” Kimerly said. “We support every gay issue that has come about … we like to show our camaraderie with our members [of] the community.”

With supporters like Esparza and Kimerly, Cianciola believes COOK Phoenix will to continue to grow.

“I can see it being one of the top foodie events in the future,” she said, “It could definitely happen one day.”

Esparza hopes that more members of the LGBT community, including businesses and restaurants, participate in the event in the future.

“In the community we need to support ourselves, and this is another event that puts us at the forefront for equality,” Esparza said. “I really hope the HRC brings out the Valley as a whole to show unity for all … and I mean all!”

The out-and-proud chef added that the event is a vital connection between Barrio Café and the LGBT community.

“Fear of the unknown is scary for people, but the more we’re in the light instead of the shadows, the more acceptance we’ll gain,” Esparza said, “They say love conquers all and I believe it.”

COOK Phoenix tickets are $25 and include admission, unlimited food samples and an annual HRC membership or membership renewal for existing members.

Membership benefits in-clude a subscription to Equality Magazine, invitations to HRC events and volunteer opportunities. All proceeds go to the HRC and are used to continue HRC’s work in guaranteeing a nation where everyone is treated equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human Rights Campaign’s third annual COOK Phoenix

Noon-4 p.m. Nov. 22

Margaret T. Hance Park

1202 N. Third St., Phoenix

Tickets: $25

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