Two newbies and one veteran win top honors at food/wine pairing evening
A highlight of the Denver International Wine Festival is Pairsine, the cleverly named chef competition in which 10 chefs are tasked with creating two dishes each to pair with previously selected gold-medal-winning wines. I was again honored to be a judge — along with Amanda Faison of 5280 Magazine, Teresa Farney of the Colorado Springs Gazette, newspaper veteran John Lehndorff who now blogs as “Nibbles,” Michael Long chef and radio host of KEZW’s “The Main Course” and Lori Midson of Westword. Rob Corey, chef and culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales, tried to keep us judges organized — rather like herding hungry cats.
The room was abuzz with foodies and oenophiles, nibbling, sipping, comparing and enjoying the opportunity to taste great food and wines to match. We judges, who started out threading through the crowd in pairs, but after a time, some twosomes dissolved. I’ve been a judge a number of times in the festival’s nine years, but the last time was 2011.
This year, there were no competitors from independent, free-standing fine-dining restaurants. Three were caterers (Bill Miner, Relish Catering & Events; Alex Wallace, Merkin Foods/Farm to Face Catering; Trinity Mack, Town and Country Foods). Others also were from non-traditional settings. Two were hotel executive chefs (Jean-Luc Vogele, Westin Tabor Center; Mario Clapes, Omni Interlocken Resort where the festival took place), one from a private club (Geoffrey Groditski, University Club of Denver), one from a microbrewery with chef-driven food(Tim Berry, FATE Brewing Company), one from a pizzeria and brewpub (Joe Troupe, Lucky Pie Pizza & Taphouse) and most exotically, one from a French-influenced steakhouse in a strip club (Douglas Mace, CY Steak in the Diamond Cabaret).
In addition to these nine local chefs from a variety of venues, former White House chef John Moeller was a guest competitor. This former White House chef during the administations of three Presidents (both Bushes and Clinton) now operates State of Affairs Catering, Lancaster, PA. He has written a new memoir and recipe book, Dining at the White House: From the President’s Table to Yours.
Former White House chef John Moeller, who prepared his two items (pan-seared Nantucket Bay scallops and braised Colorado lamb) with assistants borrowed from other chefs, because he is from Pennsylvania.
The Award Winners
We judges voted for two of the honors: Best Chef and Most Creative Chef. The public voted for the People’s Choice honors, but in a twist of winefest regulations, if the judges and the public selected the same chef, the People’s Choice won that honor and the runner-up in the judges’ Best Chef category won that award. It happened this year, with Jean-Luc Vogele impressing the judges and the people — again. Vogele is one of Colorado’s most honored chefs.
Jean-Luc Vogele, Trinity Mack and Joe Troup, the talented culinarians who took top honors at the 9th annual Denver International Wine Festival.
Jean-Luc Vogele’s bison patty on brioche with Colorado peach/chipotle compote paired with Smasne Ancient Rocks, 2010. The combo wowed judges and public alike. Chef Vogele also offered an exquisite butternut squash soup.
Joe Troupe’s brandade croquette on a stick with preserved lemon aioli was paired with Tuscan Sun Abbrachio, 2012. It and his lamb cassoulet earned Best Chef honors.
Trinity Mack, the only woman in the competition, aced Most Creative, thanks to the savory butternut squash crème brulee, paired with Rack and Riddle Sparkling Rose. The other knock-’em-dead creative dish was “faux” steak tartare — cooked steak colored with beet juice to resemble raw beef. She served it with a Balsamic reduction.
Next year will be the Denver International Wine Festival’s 10th anniversary. I hope to be called on to judge again.