And the winner is…

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SALISBURY — Two people signed up for the first Market Chef Competition at the Salisbury Farmers Market last Saturday, but many more enjoyed the first in a series of cookoffs planned this summer.
Competitor Quinn Scarvey found her assistant, Eli Sherrill, 9, at the market. Eli was helpful and enthusiastic and wants to be a chef.
Rebecaa Ulrich brought her daughter, Autumn, and a slew of pantry items — maybe even the whole pantry — for her competition.
Quinn kept it simple — a few spices and a few utensils.
Their surprise ingredients were Italian sausage from Domisty Menius of Wild Turkey Farms and Tuscan herb bread from Emma Martin of the Bread Basket. Each chef also got $10 to buy other ingredients. The Ulriches bought basil, blueberries and onion. Quinn and Eli bought eggs and basil.
They also had to use three of four required ingredients — squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and peaches. The squash came from Eagle Farms, the cucumber from Miller Farms, the tomato from David Correll of Red Barn Market and the peaches from Peaches and Cream, all vendors at the market.
“I saw beets last week at the market,” Rebecca said, “and I was scared, but I’m glad they’re not an ingredient. I don’t care for beets. They’re so messy.”
Each contestant had a tent and a couple of tables. Another tent contained a sandwich grill, hotplates, a convection oven, an electric wok and plastic utensils.
Because Cooperative Extension was in charge, they had already sanitized all the dishes and provided gloves for the competitors to emphasize food safety. Danelle Cutting, horticulture agent, and Toi Degree, consumer and family science agent, were the professionals on site. They got help from Penny Collins, a trained chef.
Curiosity ran high as shoppers stuck their heads into the tents, perhaps looking for a taste. The chefs had 10 minutes to shop and 45 minutes to prepare an appetizer. Great minds think alike. Both women planned a bruschetta.
“I don’ think anything smells better than tomatoes,” Rebecca said while she and Autumn chopped vegetables.
Autumn was a little tense, as some sous chefs can be. She was in charge of cooking the sausage while Rebecca chopped vegetables and had her first mishap of the day — her paring knife broke, and she was stuck with two very large knives for peeling tomatoes and peaches. Someone chastised her for leaving too much peach on the skin.
Meanwhile, in the other tent, Quinn and Eli were trading off chopping jobs. The fresh sausage was difficult, so Eli took over chopping vegetables while Quinn tackled the sausage.
A few problems with electricity at first hampered the chefs. Autumn was worried the sausage wouldn’t cook and Quinn’s sausage was just sitting in the pan, not doing much. A switch of cords and plugs got things moving again, but the convection oven was not going to cooperate at all, so toasting was done on the sandwich grill.
Eli mixed up four eggs while Rebecca and Autumn cooked their combination of tomatoes, onion, squash and sausage on a hot plate. All the juice in the tomatoes created a very fluid topping for the bruschetta.
“I hope I don’t have to strain that stuff,” Rebecca said. “It’s not cooking enough,” Autumn added.
At the Scarvey tent, Quinn was encouraging Eli. “That’s great, Eli! I’m so glad I have you as my assistant.” Eli was definitely holding his own.
Once their sausage had started to brown, Quinn asked Eli, “Do you think we should do the eggs or the vegetables next?” They picked the vegetables to cook out some of the water first and used the sausage fat to give the veggies extra flavor.
While Rebecca and Autumn let their dish cook, they peeled fruit for what Rebecca described as “A peach sangria-mimosa drink. I’ve got white wine, fresh orange juice. Autumn, take those peaches to that food processor. And we’re going to add blueberries and top it off with some of the basil.”
Quinn had not thought of a cocktail. “Oh well,” she said. “This is just fun. I didn’t know I was going to compete until recently, really recently.” She calls Eil her associate head chef.
Eli wondered if it was OK to ask a question. “Communication is what it’s all about, bud,” Quinn quickly answered.
The competitors asked how long they had left — 25 minutes. All four looked a little scared.
Cutting reminds visitors that all the ingredients were donated by vendors at the market.
As the chefs begin to wind up, Rebecca asked Quinn if she wanted to use some cheese. “I have mozzarella, cheddar, all kinds.”
“What do you think, Eli?” Quinn asked.
“Do you have any goat cheese?” Eli replied, and he dashed off to get some to top their dish. Quinn made toast, topped it with the sausage, and scrambled the eggs. She topped the sausage with the egg and then her vegetables, then Eli added goat cheese.
Rebecca and Autumn scrambled to get their plates together. Bread on the bottom, then the vegetable mixture and a few shaves of parmesan. They did have to strain their concoction. Beside it, they place cut glass cups of their mimosa/sangria. It’s a feast for the eyes, at least.
Each contestant prepared three plates for the judges — Degree, Cutting and the surprise judge, Domisty Menius. The four competitors posed for photos with their dishes and then the judges started tasting. They had a two-page sheet with marks from 1-10 for appearance, ingredients, creativity, aroma, flavor, aftertaste and overall, up to a possible 70 points per judge. Cutting will total the points to determine a winner.
Menius finished her sheet and dashed off to help customers at her table, causing a slight delay in revealing the winner.
Finally, Cutting takes the microphone. “This was a tough competition. … It was an exceptionally hard job with all the twists we had. Just a 12-point difference separates first and second place.”
The crowd gets antsy. “Our second place winner is, with 183 points, Quinn and Eli!” Loud clapping follows, but Eli looks a little disappointed. “The winner with 195 points is Rebecca and Autumn!” Applause all around. All he contestants got free sausage from Wild Turkey Farms. Rebecca and Autumn will go up against three new competitors in the next round on Aug. 9.
“We’ll have different ingredients next time and we’re going to change the rules a little,” Cutting says after the show. “It’s going to be a whole new game.”
Degree says the final competition will be Sept. 6 with a fabulous prize for the winner. “I’m not going to tell you what it is! You have to come back and find out.”