Being a blogger has definitely given me some amazing opportunities, and this weekend, the chance to be a judge in the Hood New England Chef’s Challenge brought my first opportunity to judge a cooking competition.
Because I was a judge in the competition, my hotel room at the brand new Residence Inn in downtown Portland was provided for free. The hotel was beautiful, very clean, spacious, modern, and ideally located across the street from the Ocean Gateway Terminal, the site of the Hood events for the weekend. The hotel was also blocks from many great bars and restaurants and gave us a chance to go out and about after the competition.
The hotel was also practically connected to the Shipyard Brewing Company, so we also had the chance to visit the brewery store to pick up some great local beer to bring back to Boston.
Everything about the weekend was wonderful, from the waterside accommodations (where, as you can see, island roses were still blooming!) to the food, and most of all the Hood New England Chef’s Challenge competition.
Prior to heading to the competition, I met up with Amy from Poor Girl Gourmet. Amy is one of my favorite bloggers and recently published a book. Once we were inside the Ocean Gateway Terminal, we met up with my friend and fellow blogger, Michelle from Fun and Fearless in Beantown. I was honored to be included on a judging panel with such fun, great writers!
Once the competition officially kicked off, the chefs had an hour to create a holiday dish using Hood sour cream. During that time, the judges were allowed to wander around to check in on what the chefs were cooking up. Our New England chefs were:
Connecticut, Chef “Red” Keith Lanphear, Black Rock Tavern
Massachusetts, Chef Josh Ziskin, La Morra
Rhode Island, Chef Matt Jennings, La Laiterie Bistro
Vermont, Chef Steve Atkins, The Kitchen Table Bistro
New Hampshire, Chef Evan Mallett, Black Trumpet Bistro
Maine, Chef Gary Cartwright, Stripers
The smells in the room were amazing, and maybe at times, a little overpowering! There was so much activity and prep going into each chef’s dish, and to help them out, they had culinary school students as assistants in their demo kitchens.
One of the standouts for me during the cooking portion of the competition was learning from each chef, as he cooked, how many local ingredients each of the chefs used. From locally foraged mushrooms to Granby Farms and Misty Knoll Farms turkeys, organic local sweet potatoes, and of course, the Hood sour cream, it seemed like the majority of the ingredients were carefully sourced from local farms. I think it was definitely reflected in the taste and quality of the food.
Each and every dish was beautiful, and it was difficult to decide on a winner!
The winning dish! A Hungarian-inspired chicken with spaetzle.
As the chefs finished their dishes, the panel of judges went up to each station, were briefed on the dish, and then got to sample a bite before quickly moving on to the next chef. I think everyone agreed that the food needs to be cooked and tasted in a staggered time period next time as we were rushing around trying to taste everything right when it was done.
The final products were as follows: a harvest bread pudding with bacon brittle and sour cream ice cream from Chef Cartwright, sweet potato gnocchi from Chef Mallett, kale-stuffed chicken with mushroom polenta from Chef Ziskin, a chicken and spaetzle dish from Chef Lanphear, a deconstructed turkey pot pie from Chef Jennings, and a turkey tetrazzini from Chef Atkins.
We judged each dish on presentation, creativity, and taste, and when all was tasted and done, Chef Lanphear was the winner! I loved the rich, warm, spiced sauce and the tender chicken in Chef Lanphear’s dish, and I am not sure if I am allowed to say this. . . but it was my favorite. Each dish had some sort of outstanding quality, and I would have loved to have had the chance to sit down to eat more of each!
I love New England, the holidays, autumn, and Hood products, so it was a lot of fun to be able to judge chefs from around the region doing what they do best. I felt a little like a Food Network celebrity judge for the day, and I would judge another competition in a heartbeat! Thank you to Hood and everyone involved in making the weekend so memorable and fun.
Do you watch cooking shows or competitions on TV? What is your favorite?