I Was an Iron Chef Judge, Well Sort Of
This 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 with 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?
The 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 and 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.