Tuesday’s Golden Basket Chefs’ Competition held at and sponsored by the Boalsburg farmers market consternated the panel of six judges. The competition, designed to feature the foods of the vendors of that particular market, was intent on taking the concept of “local” foods to a more precise level. Each dish, carefully constructed and embellished by the six competing chefs that represented a gamut of area restaurants and food businesses, was tasty and appealing. How to objectify the pros and cons of each entry proved a challenge.
Jeremiah McClanahan, chef at Fasta & Ravioli Co., prepared a flank steak that he purchased from Brian Futhey’s Stone Meadow Farm. Basted with Garden Secrets bourbon barbecue sauce, the steak was sliced thin and shingled on a mound of fluffy potatoes from Clan Stewart that were provocatively enhanced with smoked garlic also sourced from Clan Stewart’s bicentennial farm near Huntingdon. Slender whole-cooked adolescent carrots from Jade Family Farm accompanied, with just a tip of their stem left on. It was a dish that would have been a huge hit at a majority of Centre County dinner tables, without a doubt.
Sorry; not a winner.
Mike Benjamin, of Benjamin’s Catering, presented a grilled salmon fillet sourced from Wild for Salmon on top of a bed of fresh roasted and steamed corn and black beans mixed with lots of herbs. It was accompanied by fresh baby mixed greens from Jade Family Farm that were tossed with their cherry tomato halves and garnished with crescents of perfectly charred grilled red onion and curlicues of orange pepper. State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, surely one of the pickiest eaters of the judge’s bunch, finished every morsel on her plate and declared that the bright and appealing dish was exactly the way she likes to eat.
Sorry; not a winner.
Even the champion of last year’s Golden Basket competition, Kirsch McMaster from the Nittany Lion Inn, could not please all the judges this time. He had the particular challenge of going last. His dish of sweet corn pancakes topped with melted Leigh Belle cheese from Stone Meadow Farm and seared pork belly from Cow-a-Hen Farm garnished with cherry tomatoes and drizzled with maple syrup perplexed the group. All the ingredients were clearly from the market, since McMaster had taken the trouble to check out the market the previous Tuesday to see what was available. But was it a “main dish and two sides” as the rules had specified? Perplexed, the six judges argued the fine points. Meanwhile the presentation dish on a black-slate platter that McMaster had thoughtfully designed to be viewed while the judges each sampled one small portion on a tiny plate disappeared bit by bit, dissolving sweetly on the onlookers’ happy tongues.
Sorry; not a winner either.
Andrew Hufnagel, chef/co-owner at the newly reopened Zola Kitchen & Wine Bar was a first-time Golden Basket competitor . He and his sous chef started with a light gazpacho essence shooter and then created a memorable brined and grilled Over the Moon Farm chicken dish served with bright green collard greens from Eden View Farm, and a polenta cake made with Over the Moon chorizo along with a roasted beet and Byler goat cheese bruschetta. The polenta cake struck the palates of the judges as quite unique, and Hufnagel was awarded first place in the “Best Side” category. The question that arose during the tasting was, “When will this be on your menu at Zola?”
If you make it, they will come.
Erin Snyder, new chef at Elk Creek Café + Aleworks, was also a first-time competitor who had scoped out the market the week before to see what was available.
“I was inspired by the Gemelli baguettes that I saw,” said Snyder, “and decided to do a take on an Asian sandwich called Bánh mì.”
Her dish won two awards: Best Entrée and Best Use of Local Ingredients for the Over the Moon ground pork that she shaped into meatballs for the classic Vietnamese sandwich that included cilantro, pickled carrots and radish. Snyder’s side dishes were quick pickled cucumber slices and Fasta Pasta angel hair pasta treated like rice noodles with rice wine vinaigrette. The crowd swooped the remains at Snyder’s workstation, and though she continued making the savory pork meatballs after her presentation time, they quickly evaporated.
If you make it out there at Elk Creek, they will all come.
Overall winner of the Golden Basket award, as well as the Best Adaptability award, was Harrison Schailey from Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering. The longtime local foods champion and his sous chef wowed the judges with a grilled filet of beef on a bed of au gratin potatoes from Clan Stewart, fennel and shallots from Tait Farm, artfully garnished with fanciful drizzles and lots of herbs. The accompanying salad of arugula and fresh corn had a fresh-tasting rice wine dressing that complemented the sweet and bitter elements of the salad and was served with an accompanying chunky gazpacho shooter. The pièce de résistance that tipped the judges’ scale was no doubt the grilled peach zabaglione, lightened — perhaps not the right word — with whipped Meyer Dairy cream. Harrison’s entry proved that “Nothing succeeds like excess” and the gargantuan effort of the team that day paid off big, with bragging rights for a whole year.
Don’t miss seeing the coveted Golden Basket at Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering and hope that he puts his winning entry on the menu soon, while all the delicious summer produce is available at our local farmers markets.