Only one restaurant can walk away with the Golden Basket, and that restaurant was the Nittany Lion Inn.
The fourth annual Boalsburg farmers market Golden Basket awards were handed out Tuesday, with the coveted basket going to the best overall dish.
The Nittany Lion Inn, with chef Kirsch McMaster, won with a guinea fowl dish prepared two ways with grits and cider-poached baby leeks. The entree was followed with crepes filled with house-made goat’s milk ricotta cheese and a blueberry sauce.
“I always like to get away from the restaurant and cook for people,” McMaster said.
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He said it’s important for people to see chefs cooking with local ingredients.
“I think people come to a farmers market and they see food and get concerned about how they’re going to cook it,” McMaster said. “Maybe it’s not normal things you get from the grocery store. Maybe it doesn’t look the same — it still has roots and leaves on it and it doesn’t look like processed food.”
Farmers market manager Tony Sapia said each chef prepares a plate of food that is showcased as an entree, a side dish and use of a fruit or vegetable.
“The idea is getting back to what a typical family of four would sit down to dinner to,” he said, adding that it’s also a chance for farmers to get feedback on their products from the chefs themselves.
“The big thing about this competition ... was we wanted families to be able to come and interact with the chefs,” Sapia said. “More importantly, for people to learn and see how you can take (a local ingredient) and see what you can do other than boiling the heck out of it.”
The competitors — chefs from The Village at Penn State, Penn State Altoona, Kelly’s Steak and Seafood, the Nittany Lion Inn, Zola New World Bistro, Gamble Mill, Fasta Pasta, Faccia Luna Pizzeria and Harrison’s Wine Grill and Catering — all gathered under a tent to prepare their dishes.
Chefs visited the market a week before the competition to find out what ingredients are available, said Sean Kelly, of Kelly’s Steak and Seafood. “We just go around and see what the vendors have and base our menus on that.”
Kelly’s won for best main dish with a Bulldog Burger, named for the Boalsburg fire station’s local nickname.
The six judges — local food writer Michele Marchetti, Local Food Journey editor Jamie Oberdick, WPSU producer Patty Satalia, State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, Health and Neighborhood Services Director Kevin Kassab and State College magazine editor Kate Delano — evaluated the dishes based on creativity, taste and presentation.
Although they were competitors, there was camaraderie among the chefs. Tools were shared, and when one chef realized he had forgotten his presentation plates, another stepped up to provide plates for him.
“Everyone helps each other,” McMaster said.