Behind the scenes at cook-off
Statesman Journal Food and Wine Columnist Victor Panichkul adds Raspberry Sriracha Cocktail Sauce to his Dungeness Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad during the chef cook-off on June 23 at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner.
DANIELLE PETERSON / Statesman Journal
Willamette Valley Vineyards winery chef Quentin Reavis presents his dish, Griffin Marinated Smoked Beef Carpaccio, to Food Network Star Simon Majumdar.
DANIELLE PETERSON / Statesman Jo
Chef Eric Nelson prepares Cinnamon Sea Salt Dusted Duck Breast during a chef cook-off event judged by Food Network Star Simon Majumdar on June 23 at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner.
DANIELLE PETERSON / Statesman Journal
Kim Banick (far background) and her staff begin piping mousse into the chocolate cups that form her dessert dish for the cook-off judged by Food Network star Simon Majumdar at Willamette Valley Vineayrds on June 23.
Stephanie Rieff / Special to the Statesman Journal
From the tasting room where nearly 120 guests were seated at Willamette Valley Vineyards on June 23 for the cook-off between myself, Kim Banick of West Salem and winery chefs Eric Nelson and Quentin Reavis, it was a well-choreographed event, and the judging, jokes and storytelling by Food Network star Simon Majumdar was the icing on the top of the cake.
Behind the scenes, it was controlled chaos. And throughout the day, there were definitely peaks of high stress followed by sighs of relief. Here's a look at how the day unfolded behind the scenes via stress-o-meter.
In the red
- My worries start the day before the event when I get a call from chef Nelson telling me that half of the mangoes ordered for my Dungeness Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad with Sriracha Raspberry Cocktail Sauce had been accidentally used by the kitchen staff. But he assures me that he's ordered more mangoes and they're coming the morning on the day of the event.
- Nelson calls me about 8 a.m. the day of the event to let me know that the mangoes that were delivered aren't ripe and that we need to find ripe mangoes around town. I figure one of the Asian grocery stores where I usually get mangoes would have them, but their answer when I called was "no mangoes." I check Cash & Carry who said they had mangoes, but when I drive out there, they are all raw and not even close to ripe.
- Sometime in the early morning at the winery, chef Reavis slices his hand on the slicing machine and is rushed to the emergency room. This on top of a heavy week at the winery that included a busy Father's Day weekend. "Quentin was really looking forward to it, and it was his pinnacle moment to be able to cook and present his dish to someone like Simon Majumdar. I felt really bad for him," Nelson said.
- After Reavis is gone, Nelson had to figure out how to get Reavis' 120 plates of smoked beef carpaccio plated. Not to make things easier, there were lots of components to the dish. He starts calling people he knows to come help.
- My team and I are told that we need to have all of our course plated and ready to go in the cooler since my course is the first being served. I am nervous there is not enough room in the walk-in cooler to hold all the serving trays loaded with my plated course. The outdoor cooler that we are using is already half full.
- I'm given instructions when my team starts plating that there is one vegetarian and one person with shellfish allergies, so I need to plate two servings of my course without the Dungeness crab. But during the afternoon as people were being served my course, the winery staff kept learning that there were more and more people with shellfish allergies, so we had to create more crab-free dishes, and we had to keep washing a set of ring molds and washing hands, re-gloving and opening up bins of untouched avocado and mangoes that had not been contaminated with crab.
- During the afternoon, Nelson realizes he's still got to deal with the amuse-bouche (a small appetizer), a recipe that was supplied by Majumdar, and he doesn't have chickpea flour in the kitchen.
- Banick begins stressing out over the transportation of the chocolate bowls and chocolate lace covers for her dessert. The bowls had been finished the weekend before and had sat in air-conditioned rooms in her house; now the forecast was for a warm day. She is nervous that they will begin melting in the car and fall apart.
- When Banick gets to the winery, she realizes the kitchen is way too hot to keep the chocolate from melting, so her team has to search the winery for another space that is cooler to set up an area to plate 120 desserts.
- Banick thinks she forgot the chocolate needed to attach the bottom chocolate shell to a cookie that made up the bottom of the desert. Nelson comes to the rescue with some chocolate he has in the kitchen. After she melted the chocolate, she found her bag of chocolate.
- The winery asks all the chefs to attend a run-through meeting at 6 p.m. and bring a plated plate so the staff could see what was being served for each course. "When they asked us to come up and have a plated plate, my team couldn't get the whip cream canister to work," Banick said. She tells her team if they can't get the canister to work that they would have to find a mixer to make whipping cream in the kitchen.
In the yellow
- Tina Schneider, owner and chef of Cacioppo's, arrives at 2 p.m. to help me at the event, and my second helper, Darrick Green of Brooks Wines, arrives around 2:30 p.m.
- With about three and a half hours to go, my team and I finish dicing the mangoes and begin working on trimming and rinsing the sunflower sprouts, but we're afraid we're not going to have enough time to get my course plated.
- Afraid that I'm going to run out of time, I ditch my plan to add a chive olive oil dressing as a decorative feature on my plating, and instead of putting a squirt of raspberry sriracha cocktail sauce on the top of the cylinder of crab, mango and avocado salad, I decide to put four drops of the cocktail sauce on the plate to serve as decoration and dressing. I'm worried that I won't have enough cocktail sauce, and we run out. I have to make another batch of sauce.
- Nelson asks me to call Banick back to see if she can pick up chickpea flour on her way in. Banick happens to be having lunch with Majumdar at Happy Curry Foods, which has chickpea flour.
- Before Reavis leaves for the hospital, he writes notes about how his dish needs to be finished. From the emergency room, Reavis calls Nelson from the emergency room asking him not to forget to put the coriander vinaigrette on the apricot. Nelson tells him, "Don't worry buddy; we've got your dish covered."
- Nelson calls Todd Wieweck, South Salem High School's culinary team instructor, to see if he can come in earlier than the scheduled 2 p.m. time, and he comes in at 11 a.m. Chef Daryl Gossack of Loustic Catering comes in to help after working for a couple of weeks without any days off.
- At some point in the afternoon, Nelson realizes that he's got a monotone plate (all one color), and Gossack suggests adding a sous-vide egg (an egg cooked at a lower temperature for a longer period of time).
- Banick gets to a point where she decides at the last minute not to put a decorative cherry on the top of the dessert, which was complicated to assemble.
- At some point while they're working on putting together the desserts, Banick has second thoughts about the hazelnut cheesecake truffle that's part of her dessert, thinking that Majumdar's going to say that the truffle didn't need to be in the dessert. But it is too late to leave it out because the menus for the event are already printed.
- When Banick came back down after the meeting and told her crew when they had to have their dessert course ready to serve, she could see that one of her helpers was only part-way through the chocolate sauce branches and decorative drops that she was decorating each plate with.
- Banick's team just started filling the chocolate bowls with the rest of the ingredients when she is asked to finish four servings and take it to Jim Bernau and his private guests.
- Banick's team finally thinks they have a breather when they had all the plates decorated and were waiting to fill the bowls with mousse when they are asked to come upstairs to the kitchen and jump in and help plate the second course.
- My course is being taken out of the cooler to be served to guests at the same time that Reavis' second course is being plated and going into the cooler, and I'm nervous that there will be a collision and some of my servings destroyed. I had not made any extras.
- I'm asked to help plate Reavis' second course because we're running out of time.
- After the second course is being served, Nelson realizes he needs two crews of four people each to help plate his entrée course, and he asks my helpers and me to form a second line to help plate the course. He shows us how he wants the ingredients arranged on the dish, and both lines of people begin plating the course in assembly-line fashion.
- After each of our courses is served, we're called back on stage, and Majumdar critiques our dish in front of the audience.
Sigh of relief!
- Running around town from place to place in the morning, I finally find ripe mangoes in good shape at Costco.
- At about 1 p.m., Nelson gets a text from Reavis from the hospital saying that he's OK and in the emergency room just waiting on stitches and is excited to get back so that he can present his dish to Majumdar.
- I breathe easier after all of my first course is plated, including the unexpected ones we had to make without the crab due to shellfish allergies, and I pick the prettiest plate in the cooler and walk out on stage to serve Majumdar.
- Reavis gets back from the hospital in time to supervise the finishing of the plating of his course and is super excited when he walks out with a plate for Majumdar. His appetizer looks beautiful on the plate.
- Banick is relieved that within minutes after arriving at the winery that the staff has found a cool space that will not melt her chocolate and is large enough for them to set up enough tables to plate and hold 120 servings of dessert. It's the barrel room in the basement of the winery.
- Banick's helpers finally figure out how to use the whip cream canister while she's at the run-through meeting.
- When the branches and decorative drops on 120 plates are done, the cookie is adhered to the plate and the chocolate bowl is adhered to the cookie. Banick starts feeling easier.
- The moment of truth arrives, and all of the guests get a chance to vote on their favorite course and pairing by coming up to the stand and placing a cork in a bowl with one of the chef's names on it. Majumdar begins speaking and recaps his critique of each dish and places the winning cork in Banick's bowl, and applause breaks out.
Victor Panichkul is food, wine and beer columnist for the Statesman Journal. Reach him at (503) 399-6704, Vpanichkul@StatesmanJournal.com, follow at Facebook.com/WillametteValleyFoodWine and on Twitter @TasteofOregon.
Simon Majumdar names winner of Chef Cookoff