I Was an Iron Chef Judge, Well Sort Of

Kitchen Stadium BiloxiThis past weekend I was a judge for an Iron Chef-style cook-off in Biloxi, MS.  Chefs of the Coast started as a one day event but has now evolved into a three day culinary shindig of epic proportions.  The event I was asked to adjudicate was one of the new additions called the Casino cook-off.

Sixteen chefs from casinos around the country entered by submitting their best recipe featuring the two mandatory ingredients seafood and bourbon (the event was sponsored by Four Roses Distillery) to Southern Gaming Magazine (another sponsor).  The four best recipes were chosen and the chefs came to visit Southern Mississippi to cook their winning recipes for myself and four other judges (three chefs and a food blogger).

Chef Glen Chapman of Casino Aztar in Evensville, IN took on Chef Gunter Kilian of DiamondJacks Casino Resort in Bossier City, LA in the first round.  Chef Chapman prepared Blackened Neptune which featured shrimp and crab meat, Yukon Gold mash potato and tournedos of beef Stuart Reb Donald - Chefs of the Coastwith Charon sauce.  Chef Gunter served us Baked fresh Flounder with Shrimp and Crabmeat over Saffron Rice and Four Roses Bourbon-Cream Sauce.

Chef Chapman’s downfall was poorly executing a blackened dish literally miles from where the technique was invented. The dish was quite tasty but lacked  indications of anything having been blackened, additionally the chef’s Charon sauce broke and included almost no bourbon flavor.  Of the four dishes of the night Chef Gunter’s had both the most seafood and the most bourbon flavor.

The second round pitted local favorite Chef Chris Poplin of Biloxi’s IP Casino Resort & Spa against Chef Abel Vergara of the Seminole Casino at Coconut Creek in Florida.  Chef Vergara prepared for us his Grilled Maine Lobster with Four Roses Bourbon & Mary Jane Candy Glaze, Blistered Pineapple and Andoulle Saffron Grit Cake.  The dish was a bit of a gamble with so many sweet elements for an entree.  The glaze included grated ginger, brown sugar, and coconut milk in addition to the Mary Jane candies.  Add in the grilled pineapple and you have the makings of a terrific dessert but a seafood dish?

Chef PoplinThe easy winner of the round and the over all contest was Chef Poplin’s offering though it wasn’t without it’s controversy.  Chef Poplin used Chilean Sea Bass a species that has been on the brink of extinction for over twenty years which has resulted in most chefs (myself included) taking an oath not to use it.  However, a decade of conscientious avoidance by chefs in America and Europe has helped to take the urgency off the conservation effort.  Chef Poplin’s dish was hands down the best of the night taking first place on all five judge’s score sheets as well as the crowd favorite from those in attendance.

The event as a whole was very enjoyable.  I had the chance to make a lot of new friends including Kris Erickson Senior Site Producer for AllRecipes.com and chef/owner Duke LoCicero of New Orleans’ famed Cafe Giovanni.  And the food was amazing, the gap between first place Four Roses – The Return of a Whiskey Legendand last was a mere four points.  After having tasted these tremendous dishes I now feel for the judges on Iron Chef.  The margin for error at this level is razor thin.  You can find the recipes for the dishes in the contest HERE.

I’m giving away a copy of Four Roses – The Return of a Whiskey Legend a coffee table book documenting the history of one of America’s great distilleries.  Last day to sign-up is 2-27-12.  To enter click HERE.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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