For the first half of my guiding career I worked for services who went to great lengths to put the food they served clients at or near the top of important aspects to every day on the water. That stuck with me and was reinforced when a colleague in Montana told me, “Dave, you can’t control the weather, water levels or the fishing but you can always control the food!” So when I started this company, I have been adamant about making sure we do just that. Over the past couple of years, the guides have become very proud of what they serve which has led to some taunting amongst them and the only way to cure that was to have an event to see whose dish is best, so here we are rocking it in every way. Below is a recount from one of the judges who helped decide this years winner Kiersten Lovejoy from her food blog Recipe Resolution 2011:
Emerald Water Anglers Annual Cook-Off
Two weeks ago, I promised to write about my amazing experience as a judge for the Emerald Water Anglers Annual Cook-Off. There were so many details to process from the event that it took me a few weeks to think and prepare. Thank you for being patient while I got my act together.
First of all, I am not afraid to come right out and say that I was shocked at the quality of food that was presented at this event. I was expecting good food but I had no idea that the dishes would be so aesthetically pleasing and complex. I can say with conviction that the ten fishing guides that participated are not only experienced guides and genuinely good people, they are excellent cooks. Their cooking experience ranges from one guide that studied at Cordon Bleu School in both Paris and London to several of the guides that cook casually for themselves or that cook for clients while guiding for Emerald Water Anglers. The guides are from different backgrounds, are a variety of ages and have varying levels of guiding experience. These differences provided the judges and attendees with an interesting array of flavors and styles that were unique to each of the cooks.
The rules of the cook-off were that the guides had to prepare 75% of the food on location at Seahurst Park in Burien, Washington and that they were allowed to use only stoves and cooking gear that can be used to prepare food on the river. Can you imagine preparing a gourmet meal on a Coleman camp stove under a picnic shelter? Oh, and did I mention that they only had 40 minutes to create their masterpieces? Boy did these guides rise to the occasion. I had no idea a camp stove could be used to grill pizza, fry oysters for a Po’ Boy Sandwich, grill Bleu Cheese Stuffed Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs (which were heavenly), cook Miso Corn Salad or grill Crab Stuffed Poblano Peppers. I’m telling you, the cooks did an amazing job.
The judges were myself, Dave McCoy, Hunter Chamness and Jim Osborn. Dave McCoy is the owner of Emerald Water Anglers. He has 21 years of professional fishing experience but his main passion is to educate his clients on the state of our natural resources locally and beyond. He is dedicated to teaching people how to leave the smallest possible footprint on our natural resources. Hunter Chamness studied at Cordon Bleu School in London and is currently a chef at Crush in Seattle. Out of the goodness of his heart, he prepared a beautiful Beet and Goat Cheese Salad and Pulled Pork for this event. Both dishes were delectable. Jim Osborn was Head Chef at Watergate Hotel in Washington DC for many years and actually cooked for two United States Presidents. Needless to say, I was humbled to be included as a judge with such a talented group of individuals.
The judges were tasked with scoring the dishes in each of six categories; time, taste, appearance, originality, guidability and plating. Those of you who know me or have read prior entries on my blog can guess how excited I was to participate in my own little version of “Iron Chef.” I felt like Jeffrey Steingarten or Donatella Arpaia for a day. All categories were self-explanatory with the exception of time and guidability. Time was simply whether or not they finished within the allotted 40 minutes (the cooks either earned a 5 or 0 on this one) and guidability was how feasible it is to prepare the dish successfully while guiding on the river. Dave McCoy was responsible for guidability scoring due to his expertise on the subject. After all categories were scored and added together, the end result was a three-way tie at 26 out of 30 points. The tie was between a Po’ Boy Sandwich with Ceviche prepared by Ted McDermott, a Grilled Crab Stuffed Poblano Pepper with Slaw and Guacamole prepared by Mark Freda and Teriyaki Glazed Chicken Thighs with Miso Corn Salad, Soft Boiled Eggs, Pickled Cucumbers and Creme Brulee prepared by Lucas St. Clair. The tie breaker for grand prize winner was determined by audience vote and the honor went to Lucas St. Clair who prepared the Teriyaki Chicken Thigh and Miso Corn Salad plate.
I learned a few things from Lucas’ plate. First of all, I learned that I love Miso Corn Salad and the reason I appreciate the flavor so much is because of the umami, which is the earthy or savory taste profile that goes along with salty, sweet, bitter and sour taste profiles. The second thing I learned is that I don’t know why I have been making hard-boiled eggs all my life when soft-boiled eggs are so creamy and delicious. I am truly converted. Third, I learned that I will not melt away to nothing if I eat chicken. Yes, after thirteen years of abstaining from eating chicken, I broke the dry spell and tasted three different chicken dishes. I promised Dave that I would taste everything that was put in front of me and I delivered on my promise. I even tasted a lamb dish for the first time! Unbelievable. Chicken and lamb in one day and I lived to tell the story.
Other dishes included in the competition were Barbecue Thai Chicken Pizza prepared by Pat Jenkins; Cod with Mustard Sauce, Sauteed Green Beans and Grilled Potatoes prepared by Patrick Kent; Copper River Sockeye with Cous Cous, Watermelon and Grilled Zucchini Planks prepared by Dylan Rose; White Bean, Corn, Red Pepper and Sun-Dried Tomato Cous Cous prepared by Alex Collier (Alex earned creativity points for cooking his meal on a spitfire single burner backpack stove); Steak Tacos with Cumin Black Beans prepared by Todd Karn (this dish was so delicious that it finished in second place); Lamb and Manchego Quesadilla with Romesco, Prosciutto Wrapped Bleu Cheese Stuffed Figs and Cucumber Melon Salad prepared by Charlie Robinton; and finally, Chicken Sliders with Potato Salad and Tomato Salad prepared by Quinton Dowling. I love a good tomato salad and Quinton’s salad was delicious. I will be requesting his recipe for sure. The highest score was 26 out of 30 and the lowest score was 22; a true testament to the quality of food and the effort extended by each guide.
I was truly honored to be included as a judge for this event. I couldn’t eat for the remainder of the day or the following morning because I was so full but it was worth every extra calorie and the ensuing discomfort. A special thank you to all of the cooks that prepared such beautiful meals and to Dave McCoy whom requested my presence at his event. Now that I am a seasoned judge, I am ready for next year. Bring it on!