Maybe I was influenced by my sisters’ easy-bake-oven (though envious or jealous would be more accurate-they never left their cakes in long enough to get that spongy, easy-bake texuture, which I credit to using a sixty watt light bulb and not the wimpy 40 watter that Hazbro recommended. Proper temperature is everything).
Maybe I was influenced by my mother’s all-day Sunday cooking marathons. She would start early because a day in the kitchen started with hand-made cinnamon rolls, at least one cream pie, and then some big entrees, like liver stew, boiled dinner, or roasted chicken (which she usually killed herself). In order to get anything done, my mother kicked everyone out of the house for most of the day. My dad usually dragged my brother and me out to the woods on squirrel or rabbit hunting trips, which I absolutely hated. On more than one occasion I found myself sitting on a stump with a twelve gauge shotgun in my hand waiting for the hounds to chase a rabbit my way, dreaming not of the kill, but of how I could turn a snowshoe hare into a beautiful rabbit stew.
My mom would scoff at the notion, maybe my passion for cooking was influenced by my grandfather (her dad), a drunkard, a heavy smoker, a wood cutter, and as I found a recently, a cook on one of the Great Lakes Freighters in the 1930’s.
In short, I don’t know if cooking is in my blood or in my head. Like sexuality, I was either born with it or it was learned behavior. Whatever the case, I’m sure it’s a topic of debate that wont’ make it onto the radar of the extremist teaparty nut jobs in this country who, if they could gain some political/religious advantage from it , would try to shut down the restaurant industry and have every chef sent to prison. They’d probably go after the pastry chefs first and then after Hazbro, rationalizing their crusade by demonizing Hazbro’s Easy-Bake-Oven as the gateway drug for the flaming lifestyle of a pastry chef. (If you’re an extremist teaparty nut job who might be offended by my comments, I’m pretty sure you stopped reading my blog after Philip had his merry little meltdown last year, and you’re not reading this anyway). Disclaimer: not all Teapartyers are extremists or nut jobs. But I digress.
The genesis of my culinary identity aside, it’s always been my fantasy to go to cooking school, open my own restaurant and become a world-class chef. Maybe someday I will fulfill that fantasy, but for now I’m content with the life I’ve carved out because I get to hold down a real job that I love love love, and I get to explore my passion for food by eating and writing about it. So imagine my surprise when out of the blue an accidental food fantasy recently fell in my lap.
The Flint Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau hosts an annual invitation-only event called the Holiday Cuisine Showcase. A who’s who of local chefs are invited to prepare a taste of their best dishes for guests to enjoy. It’s a chance for them to showcase their talents (our local Flint chefs are a wildly talented bunch), and it’s a chance for everyone else to mingle, quiz the chefs, and of course eat. Chefs prepare dishes in three categories—appetizers, entrees, and desserts—and a panel of judges, after examining and eating, chooses the best of each category. Separate awards are given in each category for presentation and taste. The invited guests get to vote separately for Peoples’ Choice Award.
If you haven’t put it all together yet, I was pleasantly surprised to be picked as one of the judgesfor this year’s event. For me, this was a dream come true. Along with eight other celebrity judges, I helped select the winning dishes and crown a small number chefs as the best of the best in Flint’s culinary scene. Holly Carlton and her team put together a first-class event that I thought well worth sharing with you. What follows is a list of the winners in each category, along with a visual sampling of some of the food. I was assigned, with Bill Blinke from WNEM-TV 5 and Pat O’Boyle from the Trillium Theatres, to judge the appetizers, but we also had a chance to sample the other great food that was presented by the chefs. Bon Apettit!
FOOD CATEGORY: Appetizers
Winning dish for Presentation: Winter Ravioli Trio (Epoch Catering At Genesys Conference & Banquet Center
Winning Dish for Taste: A tie, Seared Sea Scallops with Spicy Edamame (501 Bar and Grill) + Winter Ravioli Trio (Epoch Catering)
FOOD CATEGORY: Entrees
Winning dish for Presentation: Certified Angus Beef topped with Blue Maryland Crab Cake served with Duel Sauces (Captain’s Club of Woodfield)
Winning dish for Taste: Filet Oscar with Hollandaise Sauce (Redwood Lodge)
FOOD CATEGORY: Dessert
Winning dish for Presentation: Black Forest Truffle Cheesecake with Wild Cherry Sauce (Paddy McGee’s)
Winning Dish for Taste: Cranberry Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce (Cranberry’s Café)
Crab Cakes with Chipotle Remoulade
Seared Sea Scallops with Spice Edamame
Winter Ravioli Trio
Honey Mustard Bacon Wrapped Pinapple
Caribbean Banana Chicken with Calypso Rice
Orange and Dark Chocolate Cake Truffles
Black Forest Truffle Cheesecake with Wild Cherry Sauce
Zingerman's new candy