Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Repeat performance: Garden of the Gods Gourmet wins CRA Expo cook-off

Posted By on Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 2:37 PM

Great Scott, Marty!

I feel transported back in time, all the way to 2010 (OK, so it's not that far), when Amy Pontius and Larissa Warner last kicked the competition's asses at the Colorado Restaurant Association Pikes Peak Chapter Hospitality Expo.

If youre ever entering a food competition and these two women are part of your competition, you may as well give up and run. They will destroy you, no matter how many Iron Chef episodes youve seen.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • If you're ever entering a food competition and these two women are part of your competition, you may as well give up and run. They will destroy you, no matter how many Iron Chef episodes you've seen.

Yeah, it happened again yesterday, when Warner and Pontius earned the Best Overall Champion de Cuisine award in the chef-media cooking competition and trophy rights for another year. (Last year, the TAPAteria team won.)

In the three-round comp, the first challenge ingredient was quinoa, the second Kurobuta (or Berkshire) pork racks, the third a combo of ginger and ridiculously unripe, rock-hard pears.

The judges, all but the guest judge chosen randomly from the crowd, were from the host site, The Broadmoor: Korey Sims, sous chef at the Penrose Room, Remy Fünfrock, executive pastry chef and Bertrand Bouquin, executive chef of the Penrose Room and Summit.

Here's a SLIDESHOW which features a mixture of my photos, Laurence Zankowski's images and a pic from Kirsten Akens.

First, I'll tell you what my Conscious Table team (Brent Beavers and Aaron Retka ) did with the ingredients, and then we'll see how the Garden of the Gods girls punished us.

For my part, I contributed a couple ideas, a little knife work and my mad plating skills (after all, I was an expediter and waiter for many years), but mostly a lot of go-between from our cooking station and the community pantry for ingredients.

With the quinoa, after boiling it soft with a little stock and water, we added egg and flour and turned them into quinoa cakes, which we put over wilted arugula with some diced red bell peppers for color. Next came a pretty, pink blood-orange goat cheese and Beaver's trademark smoked tea vinaigrette dressing. (Each team is allowed to bring three secret ingredients of their own, approved pre-event by the organizers — things like a sauce, stock, special spice or even main protein.)

What to do with quinoa, if youre tossed the grain in competition.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • What to do with quinoa, if you're tossed the grain in competition.

Out of the nine teams competing, we were awarded first place by the judges in the appetizer category for that quinoa plate — our only award of the day.

With the pork rack, Beavers broke it down into chops while Retka and I futzed over bagging mushrooms in ziplocks to cook sous-vide-style in my cooler, a ghetto trick we thought might earn some creativity points.

Once the chops were seared and mushrooms warmed enough, they met a Camembert-cauliflower mash (somewhat inspired by a paleo-diet recipe I'd made earlier) meant to replace mashed potatoes; then Beavers topped it in a blackberry milk-stout (yes, beer) gastrique.

When in doubt, cook with beer and fruit.

And for the dessert challenge ingredients, like every team, we tried to cook the living shit out of the pears to soften them, in a sugar water to caramelize them. Beavers then used some of the scrap pork pieces from the second round and candied them too, slicing them into delicate little worm-like strips. Meanwhile, Retka applied our secret bhut jolokia ingredient and helped make a ghost chili and ginger syrup to pour over the pears.

Lastly, we added a sweetened ricotta cheese ball and a cumquat wedge for garnish.

Sweet swine! No ... literally, thats whats on top of the pears. If only you could have tasted the hot glory that was our ghost chili ginger syrup. Throat burn delight.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Sweet swine! No ... literally, that's what's on top of the pears. If only you could have tasted the hot glory that was our ghost chili ginger syrup. Throat burn delight.

Executive chef Josh Davis and sous chef Zach Wellmann of Sonterra Grill won the entree round with the Kurobuta pork.

As described by Wellmann, here's what they did:

We Frenched it up [cut pretty to expose the bones and yield nice chops] and marinated it with our chipotle purée, which has orange juice, garlic, cilantro in it. We tried to cook it last to keep it moist — I saw the judges sawing away at some others ... we took it close to medium well, just a very light pink in there.
Our sides were a potato hash with oyster mushrooms and prosciutto and fresh herbs and a sautéed zucchini with lime juice, cilantro, salt, pepper and garlic ... Our mindset was to play to our strengths and showcase what we do here at Sonterra — keep that Southwestern feel.

On to Cheyenne Mountain Country Club and executive chef Matt Richardson and sous chef Bill Thompson, who won the dessert round with the ginger and Hulk Hands pears (you know, cuz they were either as hard as the green man's fist, or requiring a Hulk smash to soften).

Here's Richardson:

We grabbed pinot noir off the [community] table and sugar, cinnamon and the ginger. We poached the pear until it was tender. Then we grabbed sopapilla dough and cut it into triangles. We stuffed a ricotta-ginger mousse into the sopapillas, and reduced the wine into a gastrique ... and served it with a vanilla anglaise on the plate.

And now back to those lethal women, Larissa Warner and Amy Pontius. Here's Warner describing how they handled all three challenges:

For the quinoa, we made a Mediterranean salad, with grilled squash, arugula, artichoke hearts, capers and cherry peppers. We tossed the quinoa in and finished it with a balsamic reduction, some lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper. We'd also sautéed some shallots and capers first and deglazed them with wine, and that helped season the quinoa, which we'd just cooked in water.

... I love pork — what chef doesn't? That Berkshire heirloom is such a nice product. We started by Frenching it — we wanted a bone-in chop, which we seared with butter and thyme. Amy made pommes Anna — you layer potatoes in a pan, crisp them, add another layer and flip, it's a really pretty way to do potatoes. We also put Camembert in the center for some creamy goodness ... We put wild mushrooms, the oysters and crimini, in the pan with the pork and added asparagus and finished it all with a pan jus.

... Because they were rock hard, we felt poaching was the obvious way to go [on the pears]. We did a butter sauté on them to soften them, and put ginger in with that, and sugar to caramelize. We added lemon juice for acid and made a ginger caramel and passion fruit whipped cream. We'd brought vanilla bean paste and a passion fruit purée ... we stacked it in a glass, layered with caramel.

I apologize for not having photos for all the winning dishes. My excuse is that I'm busy being at two chefs' beck and call, so I can't play full-time journalist at this event.

I've obviously talked all about the chef-media competition, which is only the entertainment element of the Expo. Why you should really care to go next year is to run around and sample a ton of food and drink for only $30, which benefits several local organizations. Click here for all the players: 22502M_CRA_Poster-2.pdf

From coffee and gelato-laced espresso shots, to frozen yogurt, beer, wine, spirits, cheeses, sausages, pastries and a wide variety of savory small plates, you can easily eat your money's worth from some of the best local, independent eateries in our city.

What do you do when theres only one medal to go around two necks? WHAT DO YOU DO?!
  • Matthew Schniper
  • What do you do when there's only one medal to go around two necks? WHAT DO YOU DO?!

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