I had first heard about the Cloth & Flame desert dinners when I met Matt Cooley and Olivia Laux during Phoestivus 2016. The duo come from two different backgrounds. Olivia worked in chemical engineering; while Matt worked in tourism in Alaska, and worked wholesale for an ice cream shop in Oregon.
Cloth & Flame was born on the premise of encouraging community, and inspiring people into helping protect the Sonoran Desert and wilderness areas here in Arizona. According to the website, “We pay to lease land for our dinners, so areas that might otherwise be developed can act instead as a source of income for the landowner. We also give 10% of every dinners’ proceeds to great coalitions that work to preserve migratory routes and wild places in our inimitable state.”
They had first included the dinners along with their balloon tours, but as of December 31st 2016, they branched out to also just do the dinners. “We just realized that more could be done with it. It’s just stunning out there and so many people in our community never have the chance to really spend time in the desert, or just don’t know where to begin. We started collaborating with local chefs and artisans, and realized that others are inspired by the desert too, and the rest is history,” Matt further explained.
I had the chance to experience this magical desert bespoke, alfresco-style meal recently, and was just so impressed at the whole concept. I arrived that their North Phoenix office, which was the official meet-up point. After a brief introduction, and what to expect, we were loaded into two vans and drove to the destination.
About a half-hour later, we arrived in the heart of the desert; away from the city and freeways. The long community-style wooden table and benches were set up amongst the saguaros and cholla. The table was set with desert florals, china, and silverware. It was like a bohemian fairytale.
We started out with a cocktail hour, accompanied with an appetizer. While most everyone had the ceviche, myself and a couple other vegetarians had the kimchi “crackers” and guacamole. It was actually really good! It had just enough spice for a small kick, but the guacamole leveled it out with just the right amount of flavor.
Kimchi “Crackers” and Guacamole
After cocktail hour, we all gathered at the table, where Matt and Olivia introduced themselves and told us about the company. We then feasted on the first course. My vegetarian version was the Charred Spring Pea Toast. Again, didn’t disappoint. I definitely could’ve eaten more than one of those.
Charred Spring Pea Toast
Next up was the pozole. Again, I had the meatless version. Mushrooms floated in this amazing broth, that had somewhat of a spicy kick. The cabbage and lime were added as extra flavor. Definitely one of those dishes that I could eat over and over.
The main entree for me was the Charred Cauliflower, Kimchi Potato Salad, and Spring Vegetables. I really loved the flavor of the charred cauliflower, which I also mixed in with the kimchi potato salad, making for an effortless flavorful combination.
Charred Cauliflower, Kimchi Potato Salad, Spring Vegetables
Our last course was dessert. We had the Pistachio Pound Cake, Citrus, Mint Meringues, and Citrus Sabayon. Goodness, what a great way to end an evening in the desert.
Pistachio Pound Cake, Citrus, Mint Meringues, and Citrus Sabayon
I want to personally thank (and e-hug) the following people that made that night possible and inspiring: Chefs Brent Kille and Donny Hawk from Okra and The Gladly respectively. The Cloth & Flame team: Olivia Laux and Matt Cooley- Co-Owners, Alana Tivnan- Events and Growth Manager, Holly Ruggerio- Director of Operations, and Derek Christensen- Head Chef.