The first annual Farm to Table Chefs Taste Challenge pitted 10 chefs from across the country in a one-dish-each culinary battle at the Morial Convention Center. The chefs participated in a lottery to determine ingredients so there were a variety of proteins and and interesting takes on classic dishes made from fresh, sustainable ingredients donated by various State Agricultural Departments. As such, not all the ingredients were local to Louisiana but all were “farm to table” fresh from their donating states creating a culinary cross-country trip across America in one well-appointed room.
Each station had it’s own tailored wine pairing and there were refreshing infused waters for the just-plain-thirsty. Our strategy was to hit the shorter lines first so we’d be waiting in longer lines when our bellies got fuller. First up was Chef Josh Galliano’s Louisiana Wild Boar, Quinoa Granola, Coffee Roasted Carrots and Persimmon Mole. Though Galliano is the chef of Companion Bakery in St. Louis, MO he’s originally from LaPlace, LA. The boar was tender and I loved the sweet/tart persimmon mole.
We really enjoyed the Braised Beef Shortrib Street Taco with Red Bean Refritos and Yellow Macadamia Mole from Chef Rocky Durham of Santa Fe Culinary Academy, Santa Fe, NM. But our favorite dish of the night was the Roasted Sweet Potato Bisque, Confit Duck Leg, Fennel and Sorghum Roasted Sunflower Seeds from Matthew Farmer of Apolline Restaurant (local). It was one of those dishes that keeps revealing itself as you eat it, layers of flavor and texture pushing to the front for notice. Farmer’s dish was also voted fan favorite for the night.
Next, we visited local chef, Frank Brigtsen of Brigtsen’s Restaurant, who made Sweet & Sour Alligator with Curried Rice Calas Griddlecake and Tabasco Peach Jam. Then Chef Craig Baker of Local Eatery & Pub in Indianapolis for Chicken & Its Lunch a Cornmeal Fried Chicken Ballottine, Three Corn Infused Porridge, Summer Squash Chow Chow with House Hot Sauce. Though it took a “kitchen-minute” at each station, part of the fun was watching the chefs construct the complex dishes for extra points in Creativity and Presentation.
We had the Swamp & Turf from Chef Joel Navejas of The Farmhouse in Fort Collins, CO which was Smoked Pork & Dirty Rice Boudin Sausage, Turtle & Giblet Gravy with Ham Hock Red Lentils then Shrimp & Grits from Chef Richard Jones of Green Door Gourmet in Nashville. His Ramp Butter-poached Louisiana Shrimp on Garbanzo Grits with Pickled Okra, Smoky Green Lentil Sauce Americain, Country Ham Crisp and Tabasco Butter was runner-up in the Judges voting.
Centerplate stepped in for a chef who dropped out last minute. The Convention Center in-house caterers prepared a Crawfish and Grit Croquette. Then we finally hit the long line for Chef Hari Pulapaka of Cress Restaurant in DeLand, FL. He cleverly named the dish “NOLA” for New Old Latin Asian. The plate held 3 bites, each using 1 of his 3 farm-to-table ingredients – Redfish Ceviche on Hatch Green Chile Panna Cotta, Smoked Redfish Brandade and Eggplant Massaman. His choice to separate the ingredients paid off and he won the Judges award.
We finished the evening with the beautifully-displayed Barbacoa Beignet with Slaw Curtido and May-Haw Sauce from Chef Carmen Rodriguez of Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa in Lake Arrowhead, CA. If I hadn’t been so full, I would’ve finished the plate. There was also a table full of dainty and delicious desserts but they didn’t last long.
A new addition to the (3rd) Annual Farm to Table International Conference, tickets started at $129 and included all food and beverages as well as voting privileges. It was a perfect way to kick off the conference’s weekend of panels, speakers, demos and networking events. The conference takes place in conjunction with the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Annual Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO, and attracts everyone from nutritionists, grocers and farmers to restauranteurs, researchers and policy makers.