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A Close Call: Strada vs. Deerfield

Pistachio-encrusted trout with strawberry salsa from Deerfield
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Melissa Smith

Written by Susan Murray

In the kitchen at Chestnut, the chefs were hard at work when we visited them on the afternoon of the third quarterfinal of the WNC Chefs Challenge.

Anthony Cerrato of Strada was manning the ice cream machine in one corner while Cary Shackelford from the Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community was across the room filling muffin cups with a delicious looking batter. Both Chefs are veterans at the competition; Anthony participated last year and Cary competed the past three years. They were relaxed but focused and clearly having fun. I asked the chefs if they could describe their menus for the night in one word and they both replied “Strawberry!” And strawberry it was for the secret ingredient.

Our evening began with a shrimp, crab and lobster salad with a strawberry emulsified dressing and asparagus rumaki from Chef Shackelford. Rumaki is traditionally made of water chestnuts and chicken liver wrapped in bacon and baked. The asparagus was a play on this hors d’oeuvre and a harbinger of the dishes to come, which would challenge our culinary knowledge, as well as delight our taste buds. Chef Cerrato countered with a beautiful plate of roasted golden beets, strawberries, and fresh herb salad with chèvre and citronette. The slice of golden beet was like a piece of sunshine on our plates.

Fish was the centerpiece of the second course: pistachio-encrusted trout with strawberry salsa vied with grilled salmon and chimichurri. Both were perfectly cooked so it may have been the luscious, rich parsnip puree and minted strawberries that vaulted Strada’s salmon over the top.

The judges were deep in contemplation when the final two dishes were served. There is no rule in the competition that says chefs must make a starter, entrée and dessert, but this tends to be the case and tonight was no exception. Diners were treated to a delicious strawberry sabayon presented in a champagne flute. Sabayon is a French custard which is similar to an Italian zabaglione. We were interested to discover the “muffins” Chef Shackelford had been working on earlier in the bottom of the glass. The sabayon was voted second favorite dish of the night. Our meal ended with a homemade vanilla custard ice cream on puff pastry with balsamic macerated strawberries, chocolate sauce and salted pistachios.

Replete with delicious food, diners quickly finished filling out their scorecards and handed them in. As so often seems to be the case with the talented chefs of Asheville, this was a very close contest. Both chefs had provided us with great food, and in the end it was a tie! But alas, the contest needs a winner and in the case of a tie, the No. 1 dish determines the winner. In this case Anthony Cerrato of Strada had prepared the grilled salmon with parsnip puree and he will move on to the semifinals. Hopefully Chef Shackelford will continue with the competition next year, as his food is such a treat as well!

Susan Murray owns Carolina Bed & Breakfast in the Montford neighborhood and is the author of "The Kitchen Garden," a blog dedicated to the food, people and experiences of Asheville.

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