Just a few weeks ago, I was invited to a tasting contest held at Johnson & Wales, featuring the Flavors of Fall. Taste some food? Place my own judgements on it? These were Johnson & Wales students that made it to the finals… was I qualified enough to place my thoughts on paper?? OK, so I was to be in the audience, but we still got our right to vote too! My kind of Saturday afternoon, if you ask me.
The event was sponsored by Tropical Foods, and their requirement was that the students had to use their products to incorporate into a fall food item. Tropical Foods held different tiers that the J&W students could win from, one being a Facebook vote. I will tell you that what I had voted for online was different once I was tasting the food! All of the J&W students that participated should be commended, as the food was outstanding! It really was a joy to be there in company with future chefs.
Here are the food items and my personal thoughts:
- Buffalo Chicken Marinara – Spicy crispy chicken sliced thin over top a buffalo bowtie pasta with a cool slaw. This one got my vote in the top 3! I have a heart for anything spicy buffalo flavored and I naturally had to vote for this dish. The slaw on the top balanced the flavors out nicely!
- Autumn Fried Rice w/ Buffalo Nuts – Well, the name speaks for itself except what you may not know is that the rice also carried squash and apples in it as well. I didn’t care for this dish, as it arrived cold (was it supposed to be??) and I didn’t see any bites of the apples or squash in my dish. The judges at the main table got the better view of what was in the dish that us in the audience.
- Banana Split Baklava – Very cute baklava cups filled with the banana split nut mixture that was roughly chopped. I love baklava, and it had a great balance, but it didn’t wow me. Still great flavors, and the judges approved overall.
- Fall-n-Fire Wontons – wontons filled with grass fed meat and Mexicali Fire mix, and it was dressed up beautifully. The wonton cup was placed over a sweet potato puree. I had voted for this beauty online, but I didn’t really savor it in person as much. I found it difficult to eat, and a tad dry. BUT, again, the audience didn’t see what the judges saw, and they raved over this dish!
- Holy Mole’ Autumn Burger – A big ol’ burger made with a mole sauce on top and smoked Munster cheese. This burger was definitely something you can enjoy on a chilly day, as it packed a lot of heat! The secret was truly in the sauce… the mole sauce was made with ground up Mexicali mix, giving it that fiery taste. Great burger, and it didn’t win, but I think it would have had a chance if kept to a slider version rather than the full size.
- Apple Pie w/ PB&J Streusel – PB&J mix blended with apples and topped with whipped cream. Very sweet and tasty dish and it was a big challenge to be using that mix. I think the student did a great job in presentation for the judges.
- Mexicali Black Grouper – Mexicali crunch on the outside of the grouper, served with a stone ground grit cake. The grouper was A-MAZING. Hands down the best thing on the menu. It was pleasantly topped with an avocado aioli sauce which just enhanced the entire flavor of the grouper perfectly.
- Buffalo Bleu Tailgate Bars – Unique sweet cake mixed with the Buffalo mix. Some of the nuts were in the cake, softened with cooking, which was VERY unusual, but oddly pleasing to the palate. Then completed with a blue cheese frosting. Say what??? Oh yea… I voted for this as well on Facebook, and I was happy to taste the odd flavor combinations.
- Autumn Delight Trail Mix Brittle – The student used a Diet Delight trail mix with Apple pie spice. I am not a huge brittle fan, but I must say that she did an excellent job of creating a delicate and tasty brittle. The bites I thought were a bit big throughout the candy, but it still was beautiful and I hear the judges had amazing presentation. (Ours was just a piece of brittle on the plate, ha!)
- PB&J Bread Pudding – Crushed PB&J mix throughout the bread pudding, drizzled with a chocolate ganache on top, and topped with a bourbon flambe over whipped cream. While the chefs said that this was just OK, I personally had an attachment to the dish. I’m a chocolate fanatic you know… and while they didn’t like the chocolate, I did. While they said the bourbon needed to be burned off more, I politely push back and say it was perfection. This one got my vote!
So, what were my personal top 3? Black Grouper was first, Bread Pudding was second and the Buffalo Chicken was third (though that had basically tied up with the Buffalo Blue Cheese bars too! Ugh… this is why I am not the best judge. I love ALL foods!
The winners of the contest were very interesting to me, as the audience vote matched up to what the judges thought. (OK! We’re not bad judges then!)
- Grand Prize – Mexicali Black Grouper
- 1st Runner Up – Fall-n-Fire Wontons
- 2nd Runner Up – Buffalo Bleu Tailgate Bars
- Audience Vote – Mexicali Black Grouper
- Facebook Vote – Apple Pie and PB&J Steusel
Congratulations to everyone who made it to the final round as well as the winners!Disclaimer: Tropical Foods invited me to attend the contest. The opinions above are mine, yours however may vary. Thank you to Tropical Foods for the invite, and I want to give credit for 2 pictures shown above that is theirs. (The streusel and the headline photo)