Ever wonder what it would be like to be a contestant on cooking competition shows a la Chopped or Iron Chef? Yeah, me too … and a few weeks ago, I learned exactly what that experience was like.
The Missouri Organic Association (MOA) recently held its annual conference here in St. Louis, and The Chef and I were asked to compete as one of three chef/food blogger teams in MOA’s “Seed to Plate Mystery Basket” cooking competition … and since The Chef and I are both fairly competitive by nature, we jumped at the chance.
Our competitors were friends and fellow chefs/food bloggers, chef David Kirkland of Cafe Osage at Bowood Farms and food blogger Denise Phelabaum Evans of Eat, Laugh, Love, and chef Pat Long of Café Mosaic and food blogger Alanna Kellogg of both A Veggie Venture and Kitchen Parade. (You may notice I said friends, and it’s true … the St. Louis food community is a tight-knit group so almost all of us knew each other going in to the competition. Nothing like a little good-natured competition among friends for bragging rights, eh?)
The competition was comprised of two 1-hour rounds; the top two finishers of the first round moved ahead to compete in a second round to determine an overall winner. Curious to know who won each round? Well, keep reading!
In addition to the ingredients in the mystery baskets, all of the teams had access to a “pantry” that included a variety of organic produce, vinegars, oils, flour, sugar, salt, etc, plus access to a refrigerator filled with bacon, butter, milk, and the like. As for cooking utensils, each team had three hot plates at their stations, plus access to two community ovens. Ready, set … go!
In the first round, our mystery basket ingredients were naturally-grown tilapia from Mystic Foods in Trenton, Missouri; sunchokes from emcee, Executive Chef at Monarch Restaurant, and friend Josh Galliano’s garden; and black walnuts from Missouri Northern Pecan Growers, LLC.
After consulting with one another about our plan of attack, The Chef and I set about whipping up our dish. We roasted the black walnuts in the oven and then ground them to use as a coating for the tilapia, which was then pan-fried to perfection.
Remember when I said The Chef and I are both fairly competitive by nature? Well, we may or may not have brought a pressure cooker (and other cooking utensils we can’t live without), which may or may not have been used to whip up a delicious sunchoke and potato puree. Okay, that’s exactly what we did … and then we finished our dish with a fabulous bacon caramel The Chef created and a shaved carrot, orange, and ginger salad that I made from the ingredients in the pantry. Whew … what an hour!
So, how did our dish fare? Well, I’m proud to say that we won round one! I was so excited, even though it meant we had to do it all over again with another basket of mystery ingredients.
Advancing to round two with us were David and Denise, and for this round, our mystery basket was comprised of pork tenderloin from Circle B Ranch in Seymour, Missouri, plus black garlic, regular garlic, onions, and chives. Not familiar with black garlic? It’s a type of fermented garlic typically used in Asian cuisine. The shockingly black cloves are soft, and the taste is slightly sweet and “syrupy.”
After another quick consultation, The Chef seared off the pork tenderloin, placed it in the oven to cook for a bit, then finished it with applewood smoke using another one of those cooking utensils we can’t live without, The Smoking Gun (I told you we were competitive).
While the pork smoked, The Chef and I made some mayonnaise, which he then turned into a white barbeque sauce (similar to Big Bob Gibson’s recipe). He then added some pureed black garlic to half of the white barbeque sauce to create two separate sauces for our dish. As for the rest of the ingredients in our mystery basket, we made a play on “potato salad,” adding cooked fingerling potatoes to a mixture of sautéed bacon, onion, garlic, and celery, and our final component was a quick cherry tomato and chive salad I made.
So, how did our second dish fare? I am again proud to say we won round two, taking the title of MOA’s “Seed to Plate Mystery Basket” champions. I knew that our dishes looked and tasted great, but I was surprised to hear our names called as the winners. … I had never done anything like this and had no idea what to expect!
I’d like to take a quick moment to thank the organizers of the event, Rene Sackett, the market master of the Ellisville Farmers Market, and Chef Galliano. I’d also like to thank the judges, Stefani Pollack of Cupcake Project, Ligaya Figueras of Sauce Magazine, Ben Poremba of Salume Beddu, and Nick Dunavant of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
It was a fabulous afternoon and The Chef and I truly had a blast … and I hope we’re invited back next year to defend our title!