Imagine the stress of putting a party together — having to make sure you have the right mix of people (who actually come after they RSVP), making sure you get enough food so no one leaves hungry, and having to put together the perfect party music mix that everyone will enjoy. Now, multiple that by 1,000. As general manager of Scottsdale Culinary Festival and the Scottsdale League for the Arts, it’s Kristin Castle’s job to make sure the Valley’s longest-running culinary festival comes together perfectly. The Gilbert resident started off her professional career in the world of dance, as a touring company member for shows such as Footloose and The Music Man, before becoming an event planner. She’s helping coordinate the Cooks and Corks dining event Friday, November 8 at Four Seasons Resort at Troon North. Read on for insight into the behind-the-scenes work that goes into these massive dining events, as well as to hear five reasons why Castle is glad to call the Valley home after living in the country’s two biggest cities.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’m originally from Kansas City, Missouri. I moved to New York and was a professional dancer there for about seven years. I was ready for a change from the winters and moved to L.A., where I met my husband. We came here last summer because of his job.
What led you to your position as general manager of Scottsdale Culinary Festival?
When I moved to the Phoenix area. I really wanted to focus on events in a nonprofit world, with a reason behind doing the event. When I found out about the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I was very excited about it as it also pairs with the arts background I have. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised through the festival go to awarding grants for arts and arts education programs here in Maricopa County.
What does the Scottsdale League for the Arts do?
Scottsdale League for the Arts has been around since the late 1970s and was founded by a group of volunteers to raise money for the Scottsdale Cultural Center. Currently, we have about 50 volunteers, wonderful men and women working year-round to help get the Festival going and who work to raise money for the grants to help support the arts here locally in the community.
Why would you encourage people to become volunteers in the League?
It’s a really great way to get to know your community. We partner with 94 restaurants locally, so you really get to know the restaurants and the chefs. You also get to learn a lot about the organizations that apply for the grants and all the great things that are going on in the arts community — and it’s lot of fun.
How wold you describe the Valley’s arts community compared to L.A. and New York?
Obviously, L.A. and New York have very strong arts scenes. I’m partial to the Scottsdale arts community, as well as the entire Maricopa County arts scene. I’ve attended several events and have been very impressed. There’s so much to do and see — ballet, opera, theater, comedy, musical theater.
Phoenix also has a unique way of showcasing art. For example, pairing the grace of the Ballet Arizona with the beautiful backdrop of the Desert Botanical Garden. We have these picturesque settings you’re not going to find anywhere else.
What do you look for when you’re choosing who you’re going to support through the League?
We look at who the applicants reach with their programs, what type of programming they have, how long they’ve been around, and how fiscally sound the organization is. We also consider how it benefits the community. Some of the organizations we’ve funded in the past include Ballet Arizona, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the Phoenix Symphony, MusicaNova, and Childsplay.
Why is it important for people to support the arts?
It’s important because arts encourage creativity, innovation and critical thinking. Funding for the arts is getting tougher to achieve, and a lot of budgets for arts education in schools are being cut. We’re funding organizations that help keep the creativity going in our community, specifically with children. Being able to think creatively is such an important part of the workplace and daily life.
Is there anything that you would say characterizes the Valley’s culinary scene?
I think the chef community is very tight-knit. A lot of the chefs work well together and team up for different causes or organizations. I think that’s fantastic.
What’s your favorite restaurant in town?
The restaurant I go to the most is Postino in Gilbert. It’s right in my neighborhood.
Why should people come to Cooks & Corks?
It’s an absolutely gorgeous outdoor setting at the Four Seasons at Troon North, overlooking the city. The weather should be perfect. We’ve gathered some of the top chefs and best food of the Valley in one location. Guests will also get to sample boutique wineries, spirits and breweries. We will have live art performances and music for dancing under the stars. It’s going to be a great way to spend an evening and kick off the holiday season, and all the profits will go toward funding local arts grants.
What are your most favorite and least favorite parts about event planning?
My favorite is when it all comes together. It’s a great feeling when you see people enjoying themselves at an event which began with a blank piece of paper. Some of the challenges, I think with any job, are time management and being able to handle problems that come up on the fly. Things are going to happen, and you have to make decisions quickly and calmly. That’s also what makes events exciting.
What tips do you have for staying calm under pressure?
Always listen first to fully understand and assess any situation that arises, always remain professional, and know there is always a solution. Remaining flexible is key.