by Kat Robinson
Ever tried Doritoes-encrusted skate? Oreo-and-purple-potato puree? Such are the strange delights that have emerged from the 2009 Diamond Chef Arkansas culinary competition at the Peabody Hotel this afternoon. Four chefs faced off in pairs to see who will challenge Chef Donnie Ferneau on June 2nd for the title of Diamond Chef.
I happened over to the hotel to enjoy the competition this afternoon. Each chef had 40 minutes (and the assistance of a sous chef) to create a unique and original dish involving a secret ingredient. In fact, each round had several secret ingredients (more reminiscent of Chopped than Iron Chef) that had to be incorporated into the entree.
It's pretty neat -- and if you'd like to read more, check out the jump (food porn included).
The first round pitted Chef Michael Powell of Chenal Country Club against Chef Ted Roman of the Arlington Hotel. The secret ingredients included Skate (a type of fish), vodka, Doritoes, and watermelon. Chef Roman's creation was a pan seared Doritoes-encrusted Skate with daikon, watermelon Provencale Tapenade, and a cornmeal, garlic and vodka infused polenta.
Chef Powell's creation, a Doritoes-encrusted Skate with watermelon salsa and greens in microbutter, took the first round.
The second round pitted Arkansas Governor's Mansion executive chef Jason Knapp against Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School instructor Cindy East. The secret ingredients included squab, purple potatoes, rum, white Cheddar cheese, kiwi fruit, and Oreo cookies. Chef East created a rum-braised squab with roasted potatoes and Oreo white Cheddar cheese mousse with kiwi spinach salad.
Chef Knapp's second-round winning creation was a fresh-herb-and-butter seared squab with a heirloom tomato and kiwi salsa, vodka beurre vert and purple potato, white Cheddar cheese, cream cheese and Oreo cookie puree.
I had the chance to sample a bit of the puree. At first, it seemed like the typical cheesy-potato sort of puree -- but then the chocolate whack from the Oreo cookie struck, and ended with a lovely sweetness. This strange puree really, incongruously worked.
Unfortunately, I had to leave before the last round, but I have been informed that Chef Michael Powell emerged the victor. Tim Jones fills in the rest:
The surprise ingredients were announced promptly at 5:25: brie cheese, turnip greens, bourbon, sunflower seeds, and kangaroo. The semi-finalists, Chef Jason Knapp with sous-chef Alicia Hamilton from the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion and Chef Michael Powell with sous-chef Shauna McGill from Chenal County Club went right to work, each trying to craft a seat-of-the-pants masterpiece in forty minutes.
The results were creative all around, but only one team could impress the judges enough to win. Though the competition was close, the winning plate belonged to Chefs Powell and McGill. Their efforts were self described as follows:
Pan-seared and oven-roasted kangaroo loin with a Jack Daniels cream sauce, accompanied by a vegetable ratatouille and sweet potato gnocchi. A side dish of brie soup with strawberry balsamic jam was also served.
The judges had the enviable task of choosing between two culinary pleasures, and though chefs Knapp and Hamilton will not advance, there were high marks for their efforts, described as:
Pan-seared kangaroo loin with bourbon-rosemary butter served atop a brie-sunflower seed potato pancake with braised turnip greens.
Wow- creativity in action can be delicious. All of those people lucky enough to taste the food- the judges plus two winners of a silent auction- deemed both plates superb. The winning team will go on to compete against last year’s champion, the mighty Donnie Ferneau, on June 2nd at the Peabody ballroom, determining the next Diamond Chef Arkansas champion.
The event is presented by the Pulaski Technical College Foundation in an effort to raise funds to benefit the Arkansas Culinary School.