State College

Local chefs battle for Local Foods Week bragging rights

“Chicken under a brick” by Revival Kitchen at the Boalsburg Farmers Market Golden Basket Chef competition on Tuesday. The chicken was from Over the Moon Farm with herbs from chef Quintin Wicks’ fathers garden.
“Chicken under a brick” by Revival Kitchen at the Boalsburg Farmers Market Golden Basket Chef competition on Tuesday. The chicken was from Over the Moon Farm with herbs from chef Quintin Wicks’ fathers garden. adrey@centredaily.com

The judges at Tuesday’s Golden Basket chef’s competition at the Boalsburg Farmers Market looked perplexed as the last entry was cleared away and they tallied their score sheets. For the first time in the six-year run of the Local Foods Week highlight, there was no dish that was not delicious.

In the past, various entries have disqualified themselves for being too salty or too heavy-handed with one spice or another, making it easier to declare a winner. There was none of that this year. Each dish was well-prepared, each dish made use of the bounty of local gardens and farms, each dish was beautifully composed and visually appealing.

Andrew Hufnagel, chef/co-owner at Zola Kitchen & Wine Bar, led off the competition with a perfect dish for the heat of high summer. The beet cured salmon was thin sliced and shingled on a cold plate, with chilled pickled baby beet topped meticulously with pickled mustard seeds set like jewels. Garnished with tiny capers and flakes of Maldon pink sea salt, artfully piped with Byler Farm goat cheese and decorated with sorrel microgreens, the appetizer plate was served with crispy shaved sourdough bread from Gemelli Bakers to provide some crunch. Hufnagel’s dish was recognized as the Best Appetizer in the contest and could earn a loyal following if it makes it on the menu.

Mark Johnson, chef at Big Spring Spirits and owner/operator of M.J. Custom Craft Cooking, went whole hog and dazzled the entire market with his entry. He roasted a whole suckling pig and served it on a large platter after taking it on a stroll through the market on his shoulder to show the golden, crispy piglet to Bill Callahan, of Cow-a-Hen Farm in Mifflinburg, who raised the critter. “Ohs” and “ahs” of astonishment trailed behind Johnson as he delivered the platter to the judges table and then explained how he prepared it.

His accompaniments included a tomatillo salsa, and marinated and pickled market vegetables, including beets, okra, fennel, and baby onions. A side of bruschetta was topped with Patchwork Farm tomatoes, Ardry Farm sweet corn, and succulent purslane, an exceptionally nutritious green, usually considered a weed, that is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Johnson brought the purslane from his own garden, the ultimate local foods source. His dish earned him recognition for Best Use of Local, an honor he will have to share with collaborator Callahan as the two had been dreaming of the showstopper for more than a year.

Local American Culinary Federation chapter President Zach Lorber presented a version of a summer Duck Cassoulet with rare slices of Cow-a-Hen duck breast topping a savory white bean mixture rich with the flavor of ham hock and topped with bits of crispy bacon. A side salad of Tamarack Farm Red Russian kale tossed with tarragon lightened the composition and a jar of quick pickled vegetables was served on the side.

Lorber provided a dessert as well, though it wasn’t required, but his devotion to Way Fruit Farm’s apple cider donuts drove him to create a bread pudding that included Way’s peaches and apple butter as well. Dessert aside, Lorber’s cassoulet earned the title of Best Entrée. If that is what is on the menu at the Port Sky Café at Penn State’s Altoona campus, where Lorber is the chef, maybe it’s time to ride down there.

Andre Monk, the executive chef at the Nittany Lion Inn, was clearly inspired by the local summer produce, which put him in mind of South America, where he is soon headed. Monk’s Cow-a-Hen Farm pork cheeks were cooked on site, grilled to perfection and served on top of arepas, corn pancakes stuffed with Clover Creek cheese, and garnished with batonettes of crisp red apple from Way Fruit Farm. A roasted Eden View Farm Hatch chile stuffed with Ardry Farm sweet corn was served on the side.

Monk’s dessert, which looked simple enough, floored the judges. A slice of yellow watermelon from Jade Family Farm was topped with a splooge of Clover Creek Blue Cheese and an Eden View Farm blackberry; tasty, beautiful, and a curiously delicious play on flavors. Monk’s globally inspired dishes led the judges to recognize his effort for Best Summer Flavors.

Quintin Wicks, of Revival Kitchen in Reedsville, is the new chef on the chopping block in central Pennsylvania and he seemed to bring a big proportion of that small town along with him for the contest to cheer him on. Wicks prepared a plump chicken from Over the Moon Farm by cooking it under a brick after he marinated it in a medley of herbs from his father’s garden along with Hostetler’s Naturals fresh new garlic.

The Panzanella Salad on the side was made with sourdough from Sweet Sunrise Bakery and tomatoes from a number of local farms. Jade FamilyFarm arugula provided some bite, as did the Alpha & Omega cheese from Clover Creek Cheese Cellar, a feta-style salty cheese made from raw cow’s milk. Wicks served side dishes of beets and carrots — but used three different kinds of beets from three local farms that he roasted with coffee from Standing Stone Coffee in Huntingdon. Red and gold beets were topped with Chioggia Beet Chips from Village Acres and house cultured cream and hazelnuts. Wedges of a coffee-scented pizelle garnished the dish.

The carrots were equally exalted by Wicks’ creative play; Jade Farm rainbow carrots were flavored with dill and parsley and garnished with hemp seed and puffed spelt from Hostetler’s Naturals, a major provider of produce for the restaurant that celebrates its first anniversary this month.

And the winner is: Revival Kitchen. The Golden Basket is headed over the mountain to Reedsville for a full year of bragging rights. The judges’ decision was unanimous, though there was some talk about all the entries this year being worthy of the award since so many of the chefs used the produce from the market in its peak state. But there is only one chef who makes each dish at his restaurant a celebration of the very best of the bountiful central Pennsylvania farms on a daily basis and that chef is Wicks and that restaurant is Revival Kitchen. He’s a natural at the Local Foods Week challenge; he does that every single day.

And the winner is: Revival Kitchen. The Golden Basket is headed over the mountain to Reedsville for a full year of bragging rights. The judges’ decision was unanimous, though there was some talk about all the entries this year being worthy of the award since so many of the chefs used the produce from the market in its peak state. But there is only one chef who makes each dish at his restaurant a celebration of the very best of the bountiful central Pennsylvania farms on a daily basis and that chef is Wicks and that restaurant is Revival Kitchen. He’s a natural at the Local Foods Week challenge; he does that every single day.

  Comments