Something to sing about 

Local restaurants compete for cash prizes, boasting rights at Chefs' Gala

click to enlarge The people have spoken: Cheyenne Mountain Resort - proves that chocolate and elk pair nicely. - PHOTO BY MATTHEW SCHNIPER

And the People's Choice Award goes to ... Cheyenne Mountain Resort! For the elk tenderloin with spicy chocolate sauce, raspberry goat cheese strudel, whipped vanilla celeriac and candied pecans ...

While the Oscars glued film fans to their televisions last Sunday night, another awards ceremony was underway in the Rocky Mountain Ballroom at The Broadmoor West. Three full-bellied celebrity judges at the 22nd annual Chefs' Gala to benefit the Colorado Springs Chorale were honoring the creativity of local culinary artists.

The event bestows first- through third-place awards in appetizer, dessert and entre categories, as well as one Best of Show and one coveted People's Choice Award a nod, culled from over 450 attendees' votes, which many chefs have been particularly proud to win over the years.

And yes, the chocolate elk was amazing.

For newcomers to the Gala, here's the format: Purchase a ticket ($95) as soon as they go on sale (the event sells out rather quickly), head to The Broadmoor dressed to impress, grab a cocktail and peruse an amply stocked silent auction, then find your table and begin bringing back as many different plates as you carry at once. (You can spot former waiters, myself included, because we can palm five to six bread and butter plates at a time.)

Eat yourself to the boundary of discomfort. Breathe deeply. Then head back out to make sure you've tried every dish, and, if you dare, grab seconds of your favorites.

Oh, and enjoy music performances by Mosaic, the chorale's 12-person ensemble, along with other musical guests.

This was my third time to attend the Chefs' Gala, and as in previous years, I felt like I had attended the Olympics of tapas. Chefs go over the top with intricate sauces, elaborate accoutrements and dazzling presentations.

I guarantee that even food snobs won't recognize a few terms on the recipe pages, which are printed in the evening's program as an extra treat for those industrious guests who want to replicate these inventive dishes at home.

What's always amusing is to see which chefs are unknowingly on the same wavelength when choosing their dishes. This year's common theme: raw beef. Blue Vervain contributed a kickin' Thai beef sushi, The Food Designers prepared a fun red curry steak tartare in a potato cone (to resemble a mini ice cream treat) and The Margarita at PineCreek won third place in appetizers for delicious smoked beef carpaccio with house-cured kim chee.

Beyond that delectable synchronicity, to say that any dish stood out from the other 25 would be impossibly unfair. It would be more accurate to say that celebrity judge Donna Nordin, of Tucson's reputed Terra Cotta Restaurant, and assistant judges Richard Warner and Mary Oreskovich, owners of Pueblo's worth-the-drive Hopscotch Bakery, endured a tough task of discriminating bests.

I'm not asserting that the night's like a round of musical chairs with too many chairs, where everyone wins and pats himself on the back; it's absolutely a competitive atmosphere, but politely so. And aside from one's own particular food biases, most everything tastes remarkable.

One particular call-out of credit, however, is due to the Antlers Grille's Alan Sirull, who earned both Best in Show and first-place awards for his Barolo-braised beef short ribs with foie gras, fig-scented farro and pearl onion agrodolce. (See, told you that you wouldn't know a few words.)


Call 634-3737 or visit cschorale.org for more on this year's winners, next year's event and participating restaurants.


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