Stonewall Resort marked the 10th anniversary of the popular West Virginia Culinary Classic this past weekend with a feast-a-palooza of great food served at receptions, meals and cooking demonstrations throughout the weekend.
The event kicked off Friday night with the popular dine-around, in which chefs and culinary programs from across the state offer multiple dishes paired with nice beer and wine.
You just work your way around the ballroom, selecting and savoring as much or as little as you want. Try 20 different dishes? OK. Have 10 servings of the same favorite? That's fine, too!
The crowd went wild over Thyme Bistro's potato and Parmesan-crusted salmon served with a spinach, tomato and fontina cream sauce. Besides that item, some of my personal favorites were a smoked trout canape from Bridgeport Conference Center, a corn salad from Graceland Inn in Elkins and a duck terrine with fruit gelee from host Stonewall Resort.
But my very favorite dish of the night, no question, was Carver Career Center's Yuengling-braised short ribs served atop a pool of smoked tomato grits.
I'm a sucker for braised short ribs, and these were great. But it was the grits that blew me away. After quizzing the chefs, I learned that they smoked the tomatoes for hours to get that incredibly rich, deep smoke flavor that infused every bite. It was a wonderful dish.
For dessert, my top honor went to Thyme Bistro's sticky toffee pudding, a rich, dense gem topped with fresh whipped cream.
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Speaking of Carver, right here in our hometown, the school's culinary arts team also successfully defended its title as winner of this year's Culinary Throwdown on Saturday afternoon.
The Throwdown pits two teams against each other, Iron Chef-style, in a cooking challenge in which they have one hour to prepare three different dishes using a mystery ingredient and a pantry of ingredients they don't see until 15 minutes before they fire up their stoves.
This year's contest saw Carver taking on the Columbus Culinary Institute, with fresh tuna as the featured item.
Both teams did a remarkable job coming up with creative dishes on the spot. And as I emceed the competition, it was refreshing to see these chefs often cook a lot like I do - with lots of improvisation.
Don't have cream to finish the risotto? Add a dash of sweetened condensed milk. Don't have breadcrumbs to coat the risotto cakes? Use ground pumpkin seeds. Love it.
Dishes presented to the judges included beer-battered tilapia with a jicama slaw, seared tuna atop a butter-poached fondant potato, steak with a cabbage-bacon hash and more.