I didn’t eat all day last Thursday until nearly dinnertime.
I’m not saying this to showcase my fasting ability (almost none) but to demonstrate my commitment to eating amazing food when it is offered to me.
I’m saying that last Thursday, I had the distinct honor of being on the judges panel for the annual March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction event, in which 11 of Rochester’s most talented chefs submit their best appetizer, entrée and dessert. Some chefs feature the most-loved dishes on their menu, and many create something entirely new within their wheelhouse just for the event.
For each category, the judging panel was made up of a chef, a writer and a foodie. (I was the writer for entrees.) Here are my favorites from the event, and I’ll also cover the evening’s award winners from the other categories.
The winning dish was created by Treasure Island Resort and Casino’s executive chef James Powers. It perfectly paired fresh, light cumin seed-crusted salmon with a refreshing cucumber relish. I mean, the salmon was amazing, but I could’ve eaten a big bowl of relish with a spoon. When the accompaniment is that good, you know it’s a winner.
My other favorite of the night was from Nick Bongle, executive chef at The Loop. He featured a fall-apart braised pork shoulder with bacon mushroom cream, hericot verts and pickled apples. Pork, apples and bacon? Yes, please. But seriously, the pork melted in my mouth, and pickled apples turned out to be a happy surprise. All the flavors melded perfectly.
The winning appetizer came from Rochester Golf and Country Club’s executive chef Bill Eisenmann, who made not only the food he served, but also the dish he served it on. It was wild Lake Michigan lake trout, flash-roasted on a plank of self-harvested cedar from Sturgeon Bay, Wis. The trout was sprinkled with hand-crafted smoked bacon and served with sweet mustard and truffle-scented whipped potatoes (also from Wisconsin).
Another standout starter was simply called a “deconstructed caprese salad,” but it was crazy complex in its conception and execution. Somerby executive chef Mike Glienke’s dish looked like everything it wasn’t — buffalo mozzarella and reduced chilled heirloom tomatoes were sculpted to look like hard-boiled egg slices, for example. It was just one example of the creativity we were invited to sample there.
Rochester Event Center’s executive chef Chris Hodapp took home the judges’ honors in the dessert category after he charmed them with his “whimsical forests delight” dish. The almost too-pretty-to-eat confection featured almond dacquoise layered with brandy cherry Bavarian, chocolate cremeux and tart cherry pate de fruit. This was served with almond crumble and a chocolate-dipped cherry.
Other yummy desserts included a lemon trifle from Chef Erik Kleven at Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery, and a banana bread pudding with pumpkin praline caramel sauce from Rochester Athletic Club’s executive chef Bruce Born.
And finally but not least of all, the people have spoken.
Chef Derek Jensen of Chester’s in downtown Rochester walked away with the peoples’ choice award for the evening, which is voted upon throughout the night at the event. To see why he won overall, you just have to look at his menu: A poached pear and bay arugula salad, followed by hearty beef tenderloin in a merlot reduction, served with a roasted sweet corn and potato hash. And for dessert, don’t miss the molten butterscotch cake.
If you get a chance to go next year, don’t hesitate. And leave plenty of room for some pretty outstanding food.