Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Taste of Elegance

Tyler Wiard (pronounced “wired,” not “weird”), the executive chef of Elway’s Steakhouse in Denver, won this year’s Taste of Elegance for his cumin roasted pork loin and braised shoulder with green chile, posole cake, smooth avocado and red chile. That’s a very Coloradan dish, featuring the green and red chile of New Mexican cuisine, which we Coloradans have adopted.
It’s a tough event. Chefs compete regionally, and then the winners all meet for the nationals. This year 22 chefs were supposed to compete, but only 21 did as Patrick Ponsaty, the local winner from Bernard’o in San Diego, had to back out suddenly. The chefs get up early in the morning and start cooking, and the first one presents his dishes to the judges at 11:45 a.m., after which he comes out to the media and we grill him about his dish.
By around 3 p.m. they’re done, eight finalists are announced, and they have to start over again, preparing the same dish that the judges — already stuffed from the earlier judging — have already eaten. Fortunately the six judges have the good sense to split their jobs — with each one sampling just half the dishes in the first round. It’s not completely fair to the contestants, but neither would forcing the chefs to eat 21 dishes — contestants 16-21 wouldn’t stand a chance.
Above and to the right there is Tim Bucci, chef of the Renaissance City Center in Joliet, Ill., who placed second for his (hold on to your hat) Roasted apple and juniper berry brined pork loin with a pumpernickel bratwurst mantle, date and cider pork jus, butternut squash and braised pork neck dumpling, savoy cabbage with house-made smoked bacon, spiced apple purée, root vegetables and haricots verts and candied air-dried "pig tail” (that last bit made out of ham).
Forrest Parker, a Charleston native who now is chef at the Old Hickory Steakhouse at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, came in third. You can see him there on the left. He made a spice-rubbed and shagbark lacquered pork loin with sweet potato hash and green bean casserole.
Kevin Storm was another one of the eight finalists. That’s him on the right, looking mad. He wasn’t really mad, that’s just the face he was making when I snapped the picture. He did look annoyed when I asked him his favorite color, though. I probably did sound kind of frivolous when I asked (it’s red, by the way). He’s the chef of Bellerive Country Club in Ballwin, Mo., and he made what he called Peking Style Pork: Crêpe, carrot ginger sauce, Asian pear chutney, smoked pork loin and herb salad.
I didn’t capture Shad Kirton’s personality very well either. That’s him on the left, looking gloomy and suspicious, which I don’t think he is at all. He’s quite jovial and good-natured, in fact, and a local favorite among members of the pork board, which is based in Des Moines. He was representing Absolute Flavors and Smokey D’s BBQ, both in that city, and he was a finalist for his maple bourbon glazed ribs.
I’m afraid I didn’t get to know Ian Sullivan all that well, so I don’t know if I captured him in this picture. He’s the chef at an Italian restaurant called Vivace in Raleigh, and he cooked up some braised pork belly with egg ravioli, piave crema and micro green salad. The ravioli were actually filled with egg yolk, a technique New Yorkers might know if they eat at San Domenico, which is famous for that dish. Piave is the kind of cheese Ian used in his sauce. I don’t think I'd ever heard of it, but it comes from Italy’s Po River valley and, oddly enough, Tyler Honke (pronounced honkey, oh yes it is), used Piave, too, for his tête de cochon. True to the dish’s name, Tyler, on the left, the chef of Tre Lounge in Sioux Falls, S.D., cooked a whole head of pig. He served fennel-dusted temple, garlic rubbed cheek medallions, and a bit he called “pork piave,” just below the jawline and crusted with the cheese. He used other bits of the head for a lettuce wrap. We asked what part of that dish might appear on his menu at Tre Lounge.
“None of it,” he said. Sioux Falls is apparently not ready for pig head.
Brandon Hamilton, over there on the right, made the top eight with his pork trotters with Shagbark hickory custard, meaning that both chefs who used shagbark — a southern sweetener its users both compared to maple — made it into the finals. What do you suppose that means?
Brandon is the executive chef of Traders Point Creamery Café in Zionsville, Ind. He’s a nutrition buff, but he can hold his alcohol, as we shall see, probably in the blog entry after this one.
Jake Robinson, on the left, is on a health kick, too. He says he’s a big green tea drinker, although he also seems to know how to drink beer. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry (you might remember him as the guy who made Dave Rensi his bitch), this Ann Arbor-based chef’s main job is at Chartwells, although at this competition he was representing Pacific Rim with his Pan Asian Trio: pork confit spring roll, Thai chile and ginger braised shoulder with brown sugar-soy tamarind glaze, and Taiwanese pork sausage.
And here on the right is Francisco Vintimilla, chef of the Sailfish Point Country Club in Stuart, Fla. A native of Ecuador, he made Andouille-wrapped slow-roasted pork shoulder with a sweet potato tart, Brussels sprouts and apple chutney, braised pork and plantain fritter with refried beans, avocado, pico de gallo and pickled red onions. I chatted with him later about the national dining scene and other things. Nice chap.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to Shawn Timmerman who — and I don’t mean this in a hostile way — seemed like the contestant most eager to be on Top Chef. And it wasn’t just the facial hair, which you can see in the picture on the left; he just seemed to be an “I’m real casual but would love to be on your TV show” kind of guy. When he won the competition for Iowa’s Quad Cities area, he was the chef of Pebble Creek Golf Course in Bettendorf, but his bio says he’s the new chef of Front Street Brewery in Davenport, and he told us that he was about to start as the chef of Farradday’s, back in Bettendorf.
He made peach barbecue short ribs with braised belly, Iowa corn relish, (Maytag) blue cheese grits, spicy nuts and mâche.
You know, when I was chatting with Jason Santos yesterday (on the right), I didn’t notice he had blue hair. I guess it’s kind of a subtle blue, as blues go. He says it has been that color for years, but perhaps it has run its course — it is the first thing that people mention when they write about him, and he’s not just about blue hair. I think Jason’s about joy, but not in a wimpy way. He made a char siu pork belly, baby back gyoza and miso butter, which he whipped up using a couple of hydrocolloids, because he’s into that sort of thing.
And now on the left we have Paul Trout, yes Trout, who runs a catering and consulting company called Chef Paul’s Experience, with operations in Redding and Stockton, Calif. He made San Joaquin Valley citrus ribs and Cargill spare ribs.
Cargill sponsored the event, you see, providing all the meat.
Have you noticed that tenderloin isn’t playing much of a role in this competition? That’s because starting last year, to spur creativity, the Taste of Elegance people disallowed it as the main component in a dish. You can throw it in on the side, though.
They’re thinking of banning the whole loin. Imagine that.
Here on the right is Matthia Accurso of the University Club of Columbia, Mo. People want to call him Matthias and add an ‘s’ to his name, but that’s just not who he is.
He made a roast pork shoulder with sweet potato-and-apple purée and apple reduction, orange fennel sausage with toasted walnut green beans and cherry Port sauce, along with a pork shoulder confit cigarette, honey-glazed carrots and huckleberry gastrique.
Next, on the left, we have Germain Haro from the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor. Doesn’t he look like he’s about 16 years old?
His bio’s pretty short: It says he graduated from The Culinary Institute of America, externed in the US Virgin Islands and started working for Marriott at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Gulf Club & Spa “where he was quickly promoted to assistant sous chef.” Then in 2005 he became a sous chef at a property on Maui. So what does that make him, 26?
He braised a pork belly and served it with a savory Asian ginger rice pudding.
Ah, and here on the right is Tony Beran, from the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. He’s a mere line cook. He’s had higher positions, but he said he wants to take more time to learn his craft, which you’ve gotta respect. Later in the evening he said that I should definitely write about him, that he was the real story at the competition. He was pretty much joking, but he gets points for moxy, and his capacity for bourbon, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry.
Tony says his dish was the only belly in the Minnesota competition. It was a pork belly Wellington with smoked ham hock and leek ragoût.
On the left we have Rebecca Peizer, an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas. A native New Yorker, she introduced herself with a joke about cooking pork and having an Israeli Jewish mother. But her mother was at the awards ceremony that evening, and she totally eats pork.
Anyway, she made crispy braised pork belly with edamame ravioli, snow pea threads and mushroom shiso broth. The ravioli reminded me of the edamame potstickers at Buddakan here in New York, and indeed, she said that’s where she got the idea.
From Columbus, we have Todd McDunn of Sanese Services at Scott’s World Headquarters — yes, B&I chefs are welcome at these competitions, of course they are. His dish was “A Day with Five-Spice Pork,” for which he made breakfast, lunch and dinner pork preparations, all flavored with his house-made five-spice, and each constructed in a way that it would reflect the spice mix’s different qualities (five spice generally has fennel, clove, Sichuan peppercorn, star anise and cinnamon), so one dish was flavored additionally with fennel, another with cinnamon.
And on the left we have Larry London, chef-owner of Big Tomatoes in Green Bay, Wis., and so his explanation of his dish also required a discussion of the Packers. He has very busy Saturday nights when there’s a home game on Sunday, because so many out-of-town fans come for the games.
He made apple garlic sausage-wrapped loin over pulled pork and butternut squash risotto with spiced onion marmalade with pork demiglace and pomegranate gastrique.
Sophia Chatfield’s favorite color is “earth tone,” which is to say the muted colors of, well, dirt. You really never do know what the answer to that question is going to be.
Originally from Solo on the Indonesian island of Java, Sophia now works at the Brookridge Golf & Country Club in Overland Park, Kansas. She made blue masa pork tamales with mole and salsa verde, and goat cheese and pork belly stuffed piquillo pepper with adobo sauce and pork black bean chili.
And now on the left we have Eric Moyer of the Lehigh Country Club in Allentown, Pa., who made four small plates and called it the Four Seasons of Pork, to wit:
Winter: roasted pork loin with parsnip purée and lingonberry gastrique
Spring: ham with rhubarb chutney
Summer: barbecue ribs with chayote slaw, and
Fall: Apple sausage with brasied red cabbage, fennel, apples and Woodchuck cider juice.
The judges took their time, both in selecting the eight finalists and then the three ultimate winners. They said the competition was quite stiff.
Tyler, for his efforts, got a $5,000 check and a cruise for two people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You really should hire a photographer.