Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Got the Gold

Been really busy the last couple weeks with a number of things. I went out to judge an amateur cooking competition for some great high school girls from all over the country that was held in Massachusetts two weeks ago. Then I had to drive up to Vermont to take the "written" test for my American Culinary Federation certification as a Certified Executive Chef, which I passed.

Then I started teaching last week on Wednesday and was getting ready for a culinary competition which I went to in St. Augustine, FL. I then drove down to Florida immediately after teaching on Wednesday. I took the opportunity during the drive to find some local BBQ restaurants on my way down. It was sort of a challenge though, as you saw from my last post about I-95.

The competition I was taking part in was an American Culinary Federation "market basket". The market basket is a sort of mystery basket competition. You go into the competition having no idea what the ingredients are going to be. There is a "common stock" of ingredients that one knows about ahead of time. This includes items like flour, salt, sugar, eggs, oil, wine, vinegar, vegetables, etc. The competition allows 30 minutes for creating a menu, then four hours for cooking and finally 30 minutes to plate-up.

The basket given at this competition included a large piece of tuna (about 3 lbs.), two large pieces of oxtail, and 15 quail. Many times we receive a number of vegetables, fruits and other items in the basket, but this basket was limited and required a notion of what was in the common stock in order to come up with a good four course meal, with ten portions for each course.

There were a number of challenges in this competition. My personal challenge was the kitchen I was working in. I was given four portable butane burners to cook on, with an oven, barely big enough to fit a half sheet tray in. This difficulty however seemed to work in my favor, along with the excellent apprentice that was given to me to work with. The other major challenge was a lack of stocks, but a good cook can over come this as well.

For my first course I used the tuna. I made a risotto Milanese, with the tuna pan-seared with some toasted, ground fennel seed and dried rosemary. The sauce I made by sauteing some carrot, celery, onion and garlic. I then added some tomato paste, caramelized again and deglazed with brandy and added some white wine, reduced and then added some heavy cream and simmered for about 30-45 minutes.

The salad course I made was a toasted caraway seed vinaigrette, which I tossed some salad greens in. I paired that with a number of vegetables that I prepared a la Grecque. I also made some blue cheese, pecan crackers.

I used the quail and oxtail for the entree. I brined the quail breasts and thighs, while I reserved the bones for making a sauce. I then smoked the quail with some cherry wood and seared the skin when ready to plate. The oxtail I braised in a pressure cooker, along with bacon, mirepoix, brandy, and red wine. For vegetable I cut obliques of carrots, simmered then until cooked through and then tossed them in butter and fresh oregano. The starch was a potato gnocchi with walnuts. I tossed the gnocchi in some concasse of tomato along with some fresh basil. Finally, the sauce was made from roasted onion, carrot, celery, shallot, leek and tomato paste. I then added that to the sauce pot with the roasted carcasses of the quail. I added equal parts port wine and white wine to the pot and reduced by half. I then added beef broth made from beef base to cover the bones and vegetables and simmered for about 1.5 hours. I then strained the sauce and thickened it with arrowroot.

My dessert was the chocolate cornmeal tart I wrote about the other day. I paired it with a zabaglione, honey tuile cookie and a strawberry frozen yogurt. I topped the chocolate tart with powdered sugar and a little lemon infused sea salt in the middle.

The final results came out pretty darn good. I ended up with a gold medal, which I had not won for this category before. I have won numerous silver medals for this category, along with a couple bronze medals, so I was very happy.

My next competition will be on March 17th. I will be entering a cold food category, for hor d'ourvres in Connecticut. It has been a busy couple weeks, I am in the second week of classes, and I am very behind in my studies for my thesis, but I should be caught up soon. Coming up most immediately though, I will be going out to visit SUNY Delhi to watch the ACF junior team championship for New York, should be a good time. The weekend after I am off to Akron, OH to apprentice judge one of my favorite competitions I have had the honor in the past to be a competitor in.

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