Monday, March 1, 2010

Girls dominate CRA culinary competition

Posted By on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 2:58 PM

Go up against these gals in competition and theyll put a knife through your heart (not literally)
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Go up against these gals in competition and they'll put a knife through your heart. (No ... not literally.)

On the heels of nabbing Best of Show at the Chef's Gala last weekend, Garden of the Gods Gourmet's Amy Pontius and Café 36's Larissa Warner brought down Best Overall Champion de Cuisine at the Colorado Restaurant Association's 15th annual Pikes Peak Hospitality Expo 2010 at The Broadmoor.

I'd been invited to join one of the chef-media teams, which broke down as follows:

1) Pizzeria Rustica - Justin Trudeau, Food Designers - Andrew Darrigan, The Independent - Matthew Schniper

2) McCabe's Tavern - Chris May, 1039 RXP Radio — Tim Anderson

3) Merlino's Belvedere- Adam Merlino, KVOR Radio - Richard Randall

4) Garden of the gods Gourmet - Amy Pontius, Café 36 - Larissa Warner, KXRM Fox 21 - Kimberly Price

5) Mozaic - Scott Miller, 91.5 KRCC - Timothy Fairfull

6) Cheyenne Mountain Resort - Brother Luck, 92.9 The Peak - Woody Powers

7) Craftwood Inn - Ben Hoffer, 98.1 KKFM - Gina Kavali

How it all worked: Each team was allowed to bring three of its own ingredients (we opted for vanilla beans, demiglace and a killer gorgonzola dolce), and otherwise had to use items provided out of a communal pantry. No mechanical gadgets other than portable burners were allowed — so it was mostly a show of knife skills.

All teams would simultaneously prepare appetizer, entrée and dessert courses (five plates of each, for four judges and a display table); each course would have to feature a secret ingredient, announced on-site. This year's judges (who do judge blind for fairness) were The Broadmoor's Bertrand Bouquin and Sigi Eisenberger; The Gazette's Teresa Farney; and a random audience member chosen by contest.

Using a utensil as part of the presentation — nice!
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Using a utensil as part of the presentation — nice!
For the appetizer round, teams were given 30 minutes, and the secret ingredient ended up being spinach and chicken sausage from Palmer Lake's Sara's Sausage. Though my team whipped up a rockin' sausage-stuffed cabbage roll with tomato, basil and parsley tartare, it was Café 36/GOG's folks who wowed the judges that round by wrapping linguine noodles around a fork over fresh vinaigrette-doused spinach next to the seared sausage, a delicate Parmesan cheese cracker and spicy red onion tomato compote.

The 45-minute entrée round brought the challenge of flat-iron steak from Ranch Foods Direct. While we placed beautifully seared strips over our gorgonzola dolce next to buttery asparagus spears and whipped up a kick-ass blackberry demiglace, we soon learned that Ben Hoffer from the Craftwood Inn had also brought demi and also had decided to add blackberries. The judges were more partial to what Hoffer called his peppered strawberry beef roulade with wilted spinach and blackberry demiglace. (Well played, Ben.)

In a battle of blackberry demis, there can be only one winnner ...
  • Matthew Schniper
  • In a battle of blackberry demis, there can be only one winner.

Lastly, another 30-minute dessert round presented the obstacle of ... donuts. (Effing donuts!?) The look of joy on Paravicini's owner Franco Pisani's face as he presented a tray full of the lousiest, driest donuts I've probably ever seen was — well, pure evil, really. I felt sorry that the judges actually had to eat these miserable monsters, which appeared as though they'd been salvaged from a day-old bakery a week too late.

Anyhoo, we all got busy, and my team decided to fight fire with fire (or absurdity with stupidity, as it were) and basically just play with our food. We'd brought long plates, which we felt would be fun for cutting the donuts in half and placing them cut-side down to make the body of a dragon slither in and out of the plate, so to speak. So I constructed a banana and strawberry head with blueberry eyes, while Justin and Andrew laboriously whipped up a crème Anglaise, infused the donuts with white wine and torched them to provide even more crunch. The result was — well, stupid as hell and kinda funny. The audience gave us a few chuckles, at least.

This time, it was Scott Miller from MoZaic who earned the top nod for caramelizing his donuts with butter and sugar and stuffing bits of them into classic crepes with an orange citrus glaze. Pretty brilliant idea, really. (Sorry, I didn't manage to capture a worthwhile photo of either our or his dessert.)

In the end, all the day's hoopla was aimed at raising money for the Colorado Restaurant Association's ProStart program, which is a two-year food service and hospitality management curriculum for high school juniors and seniors.

I had a blast cooking, and personally want to thank Justin and Andrew for trusting me near sharp knives, boiling water and hot oil. (Sorry 'bout the dragon idea ...) And a thanks to all our competitors, for keeping the event fun and friendly — and hard as hell to medal in.

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