Nirvana Food and Wine Festival is about more than food and wine. This annual festival in Paradise Valley, Arizona is about bringing people from near and far together in the spirit of good food and community. You cannot enjoy food or wine—or bourbon (as the case may be)—without meeting new people. I recently had the opportunity to attend the Bourbon Street event that kicked off a full weekend of amazing cuisine, good drinks, and had a chance to meet interesting people. I was delighted to meet women who traveled all the way from Washington DC to experience the best of the best over this one weekend.

Nirvana Food & Wine Festival

Blues, Bourbon and good food was a perfect way to kick of Nirvana Food & Wine 2018. Photo By Debby Wolvos

Bourbon Street Cocktails Come to Arizona

Eating is such a personal and intimate experience. It can reach new heights when you are eating the best bites from local chefs. The charismatic, larger than life Chef Beau MacMillan, Executive Chef of elements, hosts Nirvana Food and Wine Festival with guests celebrities. This year’s festival kicked off the weekend with Bourbon Street hosted by Jason Asher, which served up the best of New Orleans fare from a local Arizona talent.

Nirvana Food & Wine Festival

Hosts Chef Beau MacMillian and Jason Asher kick off this year’s Nirvana with Bourbon Street fun. Photo by Debby Wolvos

Held on the grounds of Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa surrounded by the wide open sky, the night was filled with live blues from a local band. Bulleit bourbon provided the alcohol and the mixologist made unique and honest-to-goodness drinks. The style of cocktails ran the gambit and my top three were as unique as some of the costumes that night.

Eddie Garcia of jade bar at Sanctuary on Camelback offered the extremely refreshing Grahm’s Milk Punch. A cool treat of Bulleit Bourbon, dates, whole milk and powdered sugar served over shaved ice, it was perfect to sip while greeting familiar faces poolside.

Nirvana Food & Wine Festival

Grahm’s Milk Punch. Photo by Debby Wolvos

While there were no hurricanes around you could definitely get swept away by Justin Arellano’s Married Life. This cocktail looked innocent with a sparkle of edible glitter on Ube Nitro Foam. The drink was actually Bulleit Rye, fresh lemon juice, fresh cantaloupe, demerara syrup, fresh ginger syrup, and sweet vermouth.

Nirvana Food & Wine Festival

Sweet and powerful, just like Married Life. Photo By Debby Wolvos

My top choice for the night was from Undertow’s Libby Lingua. Eyes in the Darkness was a perfect balance of the mystery of New Orleans and the smoothness of jazz. Made with Bulleit Bourbon, Ron Zacapa Edicion Negra, Bitter Truth Apricot Liqueur, passion fruit bitters, mace, and orange oils, this drink filled the senses.

Nirvana Food & Wine Festival

Undertow’s Eyes in the Darkness only looks simple. Photo By Debby Wolvos

Bourbon Street Flavors

The flavors are nothing to scoff at. As far away from the big easy as the Valley of the Sun is, the food managed to bring all the flavors right here. From crab to gumbo to delightful desserts presented by the amazingly talented Chef Audrey Enriquez of Café Zuzu.

Beignets are an essential food of New Orleans. Every time we pass through, the trip is incomplete without a stop for the perfect French pastry and some chickory root coffee. Paul Boehmer found the perfect balance in his dish for Nirvana: a light and fluffy beignet—but it was absolutely stuffed full of perfect crab. It was truly decadent.

Nirvana Food & Wine Festival

Crab stuffed beignets. Photo By Debby Wolvos

What is a night of blues and bourbon without some gumbo? Lenard Rubin, of The Country Club at DC Ranch, ensured the crowds were served up a delicious gumbo of Andouille sausage, shrimp, crawfish, chicken, okra, and rice pilaf.

Nirvana Food & Wine Festival

It wouldn’t be Bourbon Street without gumbo. Photo By Debby Wolvos

The night was a perfect kickoff to one of the most unique food festival experiences in the country. Chef Beau MacMillan and the Sanctuary on Camelback family extend their hospitality to the talent near and far. I look forward to seeing who they bring in for 2019.


Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary meals for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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