Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Life as a Culinary Judge - One Pretty Sweet (or Savory) Gig

Head-spinning!  That's how I'd describe two days under the fancy, big, white tents at Savor Pittsburgh and my very first experience as a culinary judge. Belly-busting might be an appropriate description, too.  

When it came to belly-busting, Thursday night was the most intense of all.  Thirty - count 'em, THIRTY - dishes were beautifully, almost ceremoniously presented to two long tables of judges.  Appetizers, entrees and desserts streamed to our tables in a parade of tantalizing aromas, titillating flavors and tempting presentations.  

We judges were chosen from a wide array of food-related areas...respected chefs, magazine editors and writers, food bloggers (me!), distinguished WQED television personalities (Chris Fennimore AND Rick Seback!) and esteemed food writers for BOTH Pittsburgh newspapers...15+ of some of the most interesting food experts I've ever had the good fortune to rub elbows with...literally with the people on either side!  

Chris Fennimore, Me, Rick Sebak

The evening began with what else but appetizers...where else would you start in the natural progression of things?  There were winners and losers evident from the get-go in both taste and presentation. Some of the prettiest didn't deliver on taste, some of the most delicious were lacking in style and panache and just a few were underwhelming in creativity.  It was the best of the  best that scored in all three categories...those would be the winners.
My picks in the most of the categories ended up taking home honors.  Meat & Potatoes' creation of the Pig Wing proved that pigs do fly...straight to the top of the heap for Best Dish of the Year.  By the way, this win makes two years in a row that Meat & Potatoes has won Best Dish of the Year.  Impressive. 

I wonder if the accompanying Pig Slap Pale Ale influenced us at all?! 

Best Dish of the Year - Pig Wing from Meat & Potatoes

Speaking of influencing judges, check out the original presentation of the Duck Confit Tarts!  Sorry...it takes more than a buck to influence THIS judge.  By the way, no money was accepted...I saw all the cash go back with the plates.  At least all those I noticed! 

Some bribe!  LOL

The winning appetizer?  That would be the totally decadent Chocolate Ravioli from Savoy in the Strip District.  Nope, it wasn't a dessert. It was a savory chocolate raviolo filled with a delicately seasoned and silky butternut squash puree, a sweet medallion of butter-poached lobster angled jauntily on the side and drizzled with a fresh peach-infused cream sauce.  Total heaven!

Chocolate Ravioli from Savoy in the Strip District

On to the main dishes...there were several here that stood out including two sous vide dishes.  Now being a Food Network fan, the technique is one I've heard and observed from afar for a few years but have never had the opportunity to try.  Until Thursday.  Now I know why the Iron Chefs and challengers incorporate it into their preparations...the results are astoundingly tender and flavorful.  

How do they do it?  I hear it involves vacuum sealing and water and all, but I think it's just magic.  The meat comes out tender and juicy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. 

One of the sous vide dishes won the entree category!  Thank you Jackson's of Moon Township!  The sous vide short ribs were served atop a hash of apples and a variety of root vegetables.  Notice the little plastic thing sticking out of the top?  That was a "syringe" filled with a "reduction" we were told to squeeze into our mouths after eating the meat.  Just like Iron Chef America!

Sous Vide Short Ribs with Roasted Apples and Root Vegetables

On to dessert!  The winner was a beautiful landscape of white chocolate capuccino cannoli served with balsamic glazed fresh strawberries from one of my favorite grand dame restaurant in Pittsburgh, The Grand Concourse.  The shells were light, airy and crisp, the filling smooth and silky and the strawberries made such a tart contrast...it was a perfect way to end a meal.

Wish the pic was clearer...it may have been my eyes watering right along with my very grateful mouth.

That was it for the food on Thursday night...all that was left was an evening of strolling through the tents, sampling cocktails, talking with chefs and guests, enjoying the music and the beautiful breezes off the Mon.  What a beautiful way to spend an early September evening in Pittsburgh. What an incredible experience! 


(That was Thursday night...Friday night was round two and THE Great Happy Hour Competition.  Tell you all about THAT in the next post. Yes, I got to judge BOTH nights!)
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