Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Monday, June 4, 2012

Emerald Water Anglers Third Annual Cook-Off

Photo Courtesy of Dave McCoy

I was honored to serve as one of the Emerald Water Anglers Annual Cook-Off judges for the second consecutive year. As you may remember from my review of last year's event, the quality of food and caliber of people involved were beyond my wildest expectations. I envisioned tasty food but was not prepared for the complexity of flavors and aesthetic pleasure that I encountered. This year was no exception. Out of the eight fishing guides that participated in the cook-off, four were veterans and four were first-timers. Last year's winner, Lucas St. Clair, studied cooking at Cordon Bleu School in London and Paris but this year, the playing field seemed to be level. All participants are professional fishing guides that cook causally for themselves or for clients while guiding for Emerald Water Anglers. The guides come from different backgrounds and have varying levels of guiding experience. These differences once again provided judges and attendees with a variety of cooking styles and flavors that were unique to each of the participants.

The following is an overview of the cook-off rules. The guides are required to prepare the majority of food on location, which is always outdoors. Last year's competition took place at Seahurst Park in Burien, Washington but this year, rainy morning weather encouraged us to gather at the home of Dave McCoy, who is the owner of Emerald Water Anglers. Of course in typical Seattle style, the sun came out at the last minute and we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon, sans rain. I digress..... back to the rules. The main challenge of this cook-off is that the guides are allowed to use only stoves and cooking gear that can be used to prepare food on the river. Preparing a gourmet meal in a kitchen is a big enough challenge for me. I can't even imagine preparing a dish for competition on a portable camp stove, grill or single burner in the great outdoors. Oh, and did I mention that the guides had only 30 minutes to complete their vision? This is ten minutes less than allowed in last year's competition but the guides somehow managed to rise to the occasion. Who knew a portable cooking device can be used to grill lamb Kofta, prepare Fish Tacos, grill Filet Mignon and cook a gluten-free Portobello Mushroom Stir Fry with gluten-free Fried Ice Cream as dessert? Truly unbelievable.

Photo Courtesy of Dave McCoy

The judges were Jim Osborn, Brad Glaberson and me. Jim Osborn studied at Culinary Institute of America in New York and was Head Chef at Watergate Hotel in Washington DC for many years. He even cooked for two United States Presidents while Head Chef. Brad Glaberson also studied at Culinary Institute of America in New York. He currently serves as Executive Chef and Owner of Cucina Fresca Gourmet Foods, which is a Seattle-based company that offers a line of natural small-batch pasta, ravioli and sauce. They provide their products to over 600 local grocers and restaurants. I happen to be a fan of their fresh pasta and have used it several times to elevate my pasta dishes. I also admire their dedication to using locally sourced ingredients and minimizing environmental impact. Brad invited me to tour the Cucina Fresca facility so stay tuned for photos and commentary after I complete my tour. Taking a tour of a locally owned and operated natural food company? If this isn't in my wheelhouse, I don't know what is! To say that I was honored to be included as a judge with two such accomplished chefs is an understatement. It was truly a pleasure.

The judges were tasked with scoring the dishes on a scale of 1 to 5 in each of four categories; time, taste, plating/appearance and creativity. We decided to provide individual scores and to add them together instead of trying to achieve consensus as we did last year. In addition to the four categories (worth 60 total points), we allowed 5 points for guidability, which gauges feasibility of preparing each dish successfully while guiding on the river. When all was said and done, Hoppin' John with Homemade Country Corn Bread and Collard Greens prepared by Alex Collier was the winner with 59 out of 65 points. This dish was also voted audience favorite.

The Hoppin' John was made of ground Italian sausage, red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, black-eyed peas, tomatoes with green chiles and a bit of brown sugar. The final product was served over Country Corn Bread. The collard greens were made with olive oil, cumin and mustard seeds, onion, red pepper flakes, apple cider vinegar, tomatoes with green chiles and brown sugar. Alex's food was inviting and the flavors were spot on. If you read my blog regularly, you already know that I am a sucker for any type of fresh greens that are prepared well and I am telling you, Alex's collard greens were delicious. They were fresh, crisp and flavorful. It is all too easy to turn collard greens into collard browns by overcooking them so I was impressed at how well they turned out. For me, this plate was love at first bite. I should also mention that Alex cooked his winning dish on a spitfire single burner backpack stove; both creative and impressive.

Judges' Honorable Mention was Mediterranean Lamb Kofta on Pita Bread, Tzatziki, and Greek Salad with Handmade Greek Dressing prepared by Jonny Gorham. I was all but down on my knees begging Jonny to share his Greek Salad recipe because it was so tasty. As a side note, Kofta (also Kafta or Kufta) is a Middle Eastern and South Asian dish of minced or ground meat, usually lamb or beef, mixed with spices and/or onion. Kofta are most often shaped into meatballs and can be rolled with a variety of ingredients including rice and leeks. You can even make them in a tagine! We all know how excited I get about a good tagine recipe so I'm sure I will soon be preparing Kofta in this manner.

Audience Honorable Mention was Portobello and Snap Pea Stir Fry with Homemade Soy Sauce, White Rice, Tomato Salad with Cucumbers and Cashews and Fried Ice Cream prepared by Eric Sadlon. This entire plate was gluten-free and just plain delicious.

Photos Courtesy of Dave McCoy

Other dishes included Chicken Caesar Wrap with Tim's Jalapeno Potato Chips prepared by Todd Crane, Coffee Rubbed Filet Mignon with Grilled Asparagus and Mixed Green Salad with Strawberries and Blueberries prepared by Mike McCoy, Lamb Spring Rolls with Creamed Corn and Jalapeno Salad, Edamame, Kimchee and Risotto prepared by Quinton Dowling, Cod Tacos with Handmade Tartar Sauce prepared by Patrick Kent and Seared Ahi with Seaweed Salad and Sushi Ginger prepared by Ted McDermott. Ted also provided Sake for the judges which was a smooth move. Keep it up, Ted. Bribes just might work next year. 

Thank you to all of the cooks that filled our bellies with such delicious food. I actually paced myself this year which left me satisfied instead of overstuffed (chalk it up to a lesson learned from last year's experience). I would be amiss if I did not mention Dave McCoy at Emerald Water Anglers and the good work he continues to perform. Not only is he a world class fishing guide and photographer, he is an advocate for protecting wildlife and reducing our carbon footprint to protect the environment. He remains dedicated to educating others about changes each of us can make to keep our forests, rivers and fish healthy and plentiful. A big thank you to Dave for requesting my presence and input at his event. With two years under my belt, I am looking forward to big things next year. Can't wait to do it all over again! 

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