Chef competition is the foodiest part of annual Denver International Wine Festival
When I posted a condensed report about my evening of judging the Taste of Elegance, I promised you some more morsels about the always-fantastic chef competition that is the foodiest part of of the annual Denver International Wine Festival. A week before the festival, each of the 10 chefs was given one bottle of white and one bottle of red that had been judged the best of some 450 world wines entered into the wine competition portion of the festival. Just think of it — the 20 top wines paired with dishes created by 10 of the area’s top chefs, who were given free reign for the dishes they presented at the Taste of Elegance.
Here’s my disclaimer: Paying attention to the winemakers and chefs who brought their entries to the judges’ table, tasting the wines and evaluating the dishes that paired with them, taking notes both for the dishes themselves and for this post and quickly snapping a photo of each is a lot of multi-tasking. I spent three hours looking through my images and trying to decipher my scribbles to match up my notes with the food images and the chefs who presented the dishes.
In the end, I decided to post just one of the two dishes presented by the four honored chefs. Please understand that the captions do not reveal the complexity of the dishes or the combination of flavors. And please, Chefs, if you look at this and see that I’ve messed up, leave a comment or drop me a note, and I’ll fix it. I did my best, honest! Meanwhile, you can check the Denver International Wine Festival’s website and click on “Photos.” The 2009 images are still up, but I’m sure festival organizer Chris Davies, who is also a fine photographer, will post the 2010 images when he has caught up from this big event.
With huge grape clusters hanging from the ceiling, 10 chefs set up for the eager crowd for the sold-out Taste of Elegance chef competition.
Best Chef of 2010
Top honors went to Robert N. Corey of 12 Seasons Personal Chef & Sommelier. In 2009, when he was still with Sandoval’s Kitchen, he was selected as the Most Creative Chef. Wines: Zolo Vino Sol Torrontes 2010 (Argentina) and Coiled Wines Syrah 2010 (Napa).
A trio: risotto with apple and peach, seared scallop on plantain chip and crab.
Most Creative Chef
Leo Harvey, executive chef of the Big Game Restaurant & Lounge, took this coveted honor. The young chef, who turns 28 next week, has international perspective. Even before culinary school (he graduated magna cum laude from Atlanta’s Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts), he grew up overseas. He was born in Japan and lived in South Korea, Germany and the Philippines before moving to the United States. A parent in the military, most likely. Wines: Coyote Canyon Winery Albariño 2009 (Washington State) and Venteux Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Paso Robles, California).
Cherry cola-glazed chicken breast with sumac and caramelized nectarines over Treviso, watercress and Greek olives.
Most Creative Chef, Honorable Mention
Honorable mentions are not made lightly, but Geoffrey Groditski, executive chef of The Fort, impressed the judges for his creativity two ways. Not only were the items skillfully adapted from those he developed for The Fort’s menu, but he showed terrific imagination and a light touch by juxtaposing buffalo tongue and and beef cheeks to create the theme of “tongue and cheeks.” Wines: Zerba Cellars Mouverde 2007 (Walla Walla, Washington) and Borghese Vineyard Sauignon Blanc 2009 (Long Island, New York).
Braised buffalo tongue on herbed crostini with horseradish and vanilla aioli and ancho chile-infused honey.
People’s Choice Award
For the second year in a row, Jean-Luc Voegele was the People’s Choice Award winner at the Denver International Wine Festival. He is definitely a “chef of the people,” since he also received that honor at last year’s Beaujolais & Beyond competition, which I also judged and posted about here. Taste of Elegance attendees have sophisticated palates, and there is often a mix-and-match aspect to the judges’ and public’s selection. Voegele took Best Chef honors in 2008, the first year that I judged and wrote about here. I am not including Voegele’s assigned wines, because they didn’t arrive, and I no longer have the ballot on which I noted the last-minute substitutes. His dishes, again, were first-rate.
Another trio: Air-dried beef wrapped around grisini in layers of Hawaiian salt, bruschetta with Prosciutto and Buena Vista blue cheese and Marcona olives.
The Party is Over — Until Next Year
Like Cinderella after the ball, the competitors pack up to leave.
Once again, the selection process was not easy, because we were presented with so much culinary talent, creativity in preparation and presentation, and wonderful flavors. This was not an evening for sweets, so I think we were all happy to taste chocolatier Kelly Yepello’s exquisite bonbons as a counterpoint to so many savories. Other chefs invited to compete in the Taste of Elegance were:
- David Oliveri, executive chef, Farraday’s Steakhouse, Blackhawk
- Eliza Gavin, chef/ower, 221 South Oak, Telluride
- David Harker and Mario Clapes, respectively executive chef and chef de cuisine, Meritage at the Omni Interlocken, Broomfield
- DeWayne Lieurance, chef and consultant, Littleton
- Eric Rivera, Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria, Denver
- David Davis, Bridgewater Grill, Golden Hotel, Golden
And once more, thanks to festival director Chris Davies for again inviting me to be a judge, and also to my fellow judges ‘Top Chef’ Cheftestants (Hosea Rosenberg, Season 5 winner, and Kelly Liken, Season 7 semi-finalist), Austin, Texas-based wine writer Wes Marshall and Thomas Spilman, district president of KeyBank, a festival sponsor. It was a delicious job, and a few of us were fortunate enough to do it, and my “co-workers” were terrific.
Comparing and contrasting judging with being an attendee at this or any other festival. The latter is a wonderful food-and-wine experience as well. Although judges are brought exquisitely presented dishes, we only have the time and the stomach space to take a bite of each dish — same as the attendees. And if we love something, we can’t go back and have another sample, because the plates are whisked away. If there’s something a judge doesn’t care for, there’s no way to avoid it, because in fairness to the chefs, every dish must be tasted. At the end of the evening, we judges were both satiated and satisfied that we had made good selections.