Davis Iron Chef Competition

On Wednesday, January 27th, Carlton Senior Living Davis‘ Chef Andrew Moret emerged victorious in the community’s first Iron Chef Carlton Competition.  The judging panel chose Chef Moret over Chef AJ Webb, of BlackPine Catering, in front of a large audience of Carlton residents, staff, local Davis foodies, and a reporter and photographer from the Davis Enterprise.  The two chefs created two courses each using the secret ingredient – root vegetables – at stations set up in front of the live audience.
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Below is a write up about the event from The Davis Enterprise:

The whiteboard announced, “Mystery ingredient: Root vegetables” as visitors to the inaugural Carlton Senior Living Iron Chef competition took their seats Wednesday.

The format is familiar to many who enjoy cooking shows: Two chefs compete in a timed event, each creating dishes with a distinct ingredient, in hopes of wowing a panel of judges.

The hometown favorite was Carlton Senior Living’s own chef, Andrew Moret, “who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in China and Ideas in Food in San Francisco,” a news release said. Moret has been the head chef at Carlton Senior Living for nearly two years.

His friendly competitor, AJ Webb, is a chef with BlackPine Catering and Events, based in Woodland. Webb “specializes in cooking American comfort, classic French and Latin fusion food as well as using fresh local fruits and vegetables to make unique pairings,” the news release said.

With 30 or so residents in attendance, the lively emcee, Craig Murli, introduced the chefs, and explained a bit about their challenge. Murli, also a chef for the past 13 years, works for “a really nice couple in Napa Valley,” he told the crowd.

His knowledge of cooking techniques and terminology gave the event an air of authenticity.

The judges also added legitimacy to the competition, as well as European flavor. Pia Greg, of Oxford, England, works for Proper Food, an Oxfordshire-based catering company that focuses on seasonal ingredients. She’s a vegetarian and appreciated the root vegetables being used for main courses.

Her judging colleagues were Renzo Lardelli, a flight instructor originally from Switzerland who enjoys helping his wife cook; and Albert Kutternig, co-owner of Konditorei, the Austrian pastry café. Kutternig, an Austrian native, told the audience that he’d started his career at the age of 14, when he apprenticed with a baker in the countryside of Austria.

With introductions out of the way, Murli spurred on the chefs with a five-second countdown. With much bustling around the two makeshift kitchen stations, parsnips were peeled and carrots were roasted.

Moret started with a carrot salad that featured Thumbelina carrots — among others — which he noted had a “different shape, different texture and are kind of fun.” The stubby little carrots also “get gelatinous when you cook them up,” he noted.

His second course was an Israeli couscous, which he browned to make it nuttier and add flavor depth, followed by simmering it in green tea.

Meanwhile, Webb julienned his white sweet potatoes with carrots, which would form the base of a ravioli with brown butter sage sauce. He also laid the groundwork for his first course, a root vegetable bruschetta on roasted pita bread.

Throughout, Murli kept the audience engaged by detailing cooking tips and tricks. The pan-roasting technique Moret used, Murli explained, required high heat and a little oil, which allowed the carrots to steam as well as maintain good shape and texture.

And as Webb browned his butter, Murli explained the balance between getting it browned and nutty while not taking it so far that it burns. He also revealed the benefits of various pots and pans, how to deglaze, and using ice water to curl and crisp carrot shavings.

As smells started to permeate the room — ginger, lime, raspberry — the intensity of the running clock kept the chefs on their toes. Sometimes a burner would flare as a pot boiled over, or a food processor would drown out all other sound, but the chefs stayed focused.

When after an hour Murli told the chefs that time was up, the plated creations were presented to the judges. Moret’s lovely carrot salad with raspberry vinaigrette was the most colorful and visually appealing presentation. Upon seeing it, Greg announced, “It looks too good to eat!”

The judges studied each dish, complimenting the creativity and appearance before diving in.

Greg found that the micro greens — baby herbs that included cilantro, bull’s blood and basil — on Webb’s bruschetta “really sets it off.” Fellow judges Lardelli and Kutternig also admired the presentation, judging it “tasty” and a “nice appetizer.”

Webb’s ravioli course also was well-received, although Kutternig thought the presentation might be “a little too simple.” Webb took it in stride, saying, “Criticism helps you grow.”

As for Moret’s entries, the judges agreed that the raspberry vinaigrette was a great touch for the carrot salad. For the couscous dish, Greg thought the apple might not have come through enough, while Lardelli said the charred scallion might be “a little on the heavier side.”

When all was said and done, and the judges’ scorecards were tallied on taste, plating and originality, the final score was 57-53 in favor of Moret. The Carlton Senior Living crowd gave a rousing round of applause for their chef, and all seemed to be hoping that the newly created masterpieces might be appearing on their own tables that night.

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