Sunday, September 20, 2009

Defining paradise: judging at the The Brooklyn Cheese Experiment

Sunday September 13th,6:00am. I loaded my car with stinky cheese, cutting board, t-shirt and brochures…… cheesemaker on the road survival kit. Big mug of hot coffee, kissed goodbye to husband and dog and left in direction of NYC.

Destination: The Bell House in Brooklyn, rendez-vous 12:00 with an empty stomach ready to receive lots and lots of cheese-based food creations, good or bad – I was ready.
The cheese experiment took place in a really cool setting in the heart of Brooklyn. Inside the Bell House looks like a VT barn but with a Brooklyn funky twist bien-sur. DJ, lighting, beer pouring, cool people, hip music, good time….. looking ahead.

The challenge: 17 home cooks had to present a dish featuring cheese that would be impressive and creative and demonstrated their thinking with regard to cheese selection, ingredients and flavor combination – all this without being too serious about it. Each contestant was ready to serve their dish to a panel of judges including moi and also to the 300 folks coming to the event. 2 competition in one as the top 3 judges vote would get a prize as well as the top 3 peoples vote.
Judges introduced each other, decided how we would study each dish and then we got ready to taste, look, smell and deconstruct each dish. I was the lucky one sitting between Adrian Murcia, Fromager at Chanterelle Restaurant and Andrew Knowlton, restaurant editor of Bon Appetit Magazine, WAHOO what a panel!

Home chefs came one after another to explain their dish, ingredients used and of course the cheese selection. My first favorite was the holly dumdum, a goat cheese ball rolled in maple pecan+fried sage+bacon+cayenne…… of course I would like this dish, IT IS GOAT CHEESE! Then came a very cool slider served on waffle, with Terriaky beef and gruyere on top, which the home chef warmed up in front of us with a torch, Quel Spectacle! The gruyere reminded me of the cheese called Abondance from the Alps in France.
Of course Mac and Cheese was presented but it was too dry for me, trio of gougeres from a group of student at the French Culinary Institute also enter the competition but to me gougere has to be served warm and be soft in the inside….. feels like I am being picky when it comes to cheese base cuisine or French gastronomie!

After 17 dishes were presented, analyzed and consumed in a record time of 1 hour – judges decided to list their top 5 dishes…. Which in our case was all different, ouch …..and quickly negotiation was under way. Yes but dry, yes but not creative enough, I didn’t care about this one, for me that was the best…….and then we all narrow it down to 3 favorite dishes that we loved. Couple more discussion on the order the then VOILA the judges gave their sentence.

Judges’ 1st Place: Bonnie Suarez, “Tomato Soup and Spicy 3-Cheese Crackers” – the cold soup was refreshing the heat from the cracker: perfect combination
Judges’ 2nd Place: Evelyn Kim, “Knafe Nabulysa with Akkawai & Rose Syrup” with homemade crème fraiche’ – very surprising balance of sweet, crunch and acidity!
Judges’ 3rd Place: Alyssa Lees, “Fig & Blue Cheese Grueyere Puffs” – puff was warm and you could really taste the Roquefort in the cream, fig reduction was not too sweet – overall very well balanced

Audience First Place: Gabriel Vallejo, “Righteous Bun”
Audience Second Place: Bonnie Suarez, “Tomato Soup and Spicy 3-Cheese Crackers”
Audience Third Place: Rebecca Lando, “Ricotta Cheesecake”

Winners were announced, contestants all happy and judges were ready for a drink. Thank you to Taylor Cocalis, Nick Suarez and Theo Peck for the invite and a huge load of cheese and fun. Did I mention that in the same room the same contest was going on around beer… yes too much fun and bravo to the organizer team, Vermont is the Nappa valley of Cheese and Brooklyn is definitely the home of the Food Experiment.

Next year, I am there!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What a dog and a cup of Mascarpone have in common?

Spenser, my 11-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, has reached the age when he needs to take several different medicines twice a day. I hide them in his food and most of the time he just wolfs them down without realizing they're there. But every once in a while, I find a lone pill left in the otherwise empty bowl. When that happens, I call him back into the kitchen and give him some little treat with the pill hidden inside. A few weeks ago I put a left-behind pill in a fingertip-ful of Vermont Butter & Cheese mascarpone that was in the fridge. The next meal, I found another pill at the bottom of the empty bowl -- this almost never happens two meals in a row. So he got another bit of mascarpone along with his pill -- and an admonition not to get used to such decadence. The next meal he left another pill -- but this time he didn't leave the kitchen.
He just walked over to the refrigerator, sat down and waited for his mascarpone!
How could I not share? When I finally finished the container, I let him lick out the last remnants. After the next meal, his bowl was completely empty.

Jan Fialkom
Managing Editor, Cheese Connoisseur