Last of the Secret Ingredients
It is with fond memories that I get to recall the last of the secret ingredients used in the WNC Chef Challenge. Each time I remember a particular dish or story associated with one of the secret ingredients, it brings back a memorable evening of friends and food – a great combination.
A secret ingredient is an item we used in the cooking competitions to test the culinary experience and skill of the chefs. They had no recipes, no way of communicating with the outside, and no idea what ingredient they would be presented with in determining the theme of the dishes, until they entered the kitchen that day.
Blueberries were a great choice. So much can be done with this versatile berry. We are fortunate in have the NC Blueberry Council (www.ncblueberrycouncil.org) and they were excited to provide 100 pints of blueberries that were just picked that morning. I met Laurie Wood with the NC Dept of Agriculture (www.ncagr.gov) at the Greensboro Farmers Market where they were making fresh blueberry ice cream. I quickly drove back to Asheville with my air-conditioning turned up to max to keep those berries fresh!
Here’s a reminder of some of those dishes – a Goat Cheese Ravioli, Duck Hash with a Blueberry Reduction, Blueberry Passion Grilled Shrimp with a Blueberry Risotto, a Blueberry Tart on an Almond Short Dough with Almond Cream filling – yummm!
Another secret ingredient was from the onion family. Green Onions, Scallions, Vidalia, Spanish Yellows, there were many types to choose from. I thought this would be very easy but that is not always the case. Many of the dishes tasted too strong of onions. When talking with the chefs later I discovered that within the first hours of preparing the onions, many of the chefs experienced a reduced sense of smell and had difficulty determining the final smell and taste of their dishes.
Corn was a great ingredient. Fresh, sweet and very versatile. Imagine a Roasted Corn Panna Cotta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panna_cotta) with a Corn and Crab Fritter, Aioli, Tomato and Basil. Another was a Corned Duck Breast with Smoked Corn, Faro and Fried Grits. For dessert, how about Short Stack Corn Pancakes with Honey-Corn Butter, Bacon and Caramel Corn!
Bacon was one of the most interesting. This very versatile item was procured locally from Hickory Nut Gap Farm (www.hickorynutgapfarm.com). The Chicken-Bacon Roulade, Potato Puree, Brussels Sprouts with a Mushroom, Asparagus, Bacon Demi-Glace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demi-glace). The most interesting dish for many of us was a dessert by the Admiral Restaurant (www.theadmiralnc.com). They produced a Chocolate-Bacon Candy Bar, Cocoa Nib, piment D’espelette (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espelette_pepper), fleur del sel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur_de_sel), and a bacon crème anglaise. Better than a snickers bar!
So, all that remained it seemed was garlic. Visit this link for a complete recap of this last challenge (www.wncmagazine.com/blog/editor_picks/the_smell_of_victory).