On March 18th and 19th, Cincinnati hosted our region for the first time combining the Young Chef Competition with the annual Midwest Assemblage. The magnificent Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State was well suited for six eager men and women to test their skills with a basket of selected ingredients. Everything was set for our premier event and the head Bailli was coming to officiate! Festivities started on Friday with a special luncheon at the home of Bailli Irwin Weinberg and his wife Barbara with Bailli Délégué USA George Brown, his wife Elizabeth, and a selection of wines from our Oregon trip last year. Our honored guests were magnanimous and a gracious to share some of their personal estate wine from their Red Mountain vineyards in Washington. An enticing prevue! Friday night brought Chaîne members and guests to a “Dinner by the Bite” at MCI’s Summit Restaurant made and served by culinary students with more than 50 wine selections brought by attendees. Cincinnati State President O’dell Owens received a $3000 contribution from local members and a matching grant from the national office.
Saturday was busy with an early start for our competitors heading to MCI and their mystery basket of food items. Included were a whole leg of lamb, whole red snapper, golden beets, Meyer lemons, baby fennel, asparagus, and pears. Many techniques were used to impress the judges with an array of courses throughout the day. Spectators at the competition were offered a “Fun Taste of Cincinnati” with samples from Skyline Chili, Montgomery Inn, and Madisono’s Gelato, accompanied by locally made beer and wine from Christian Moerlein and Burnet Ridge, and Kinkead Ridge wine from nearby Ripley, Ohio. Meanwhile, the Midwest Officers concluded our Assemblage meeting with a marvelous luncheon at Vie Vite on Fountain Square overlooking the signature “Genius of Water” Tyler Davidson Fountain. A special menu selection from Chef Christian Pietoso offered an assortment of soup, salad, entrees and inspired desserts paired with more delicious Oregon wines.
All came to a grand conclusion for our Assemblage with a banquet in the Pavilion Caprice Ballroom at the beautiful art deco Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. Bailli Délégué USA George Brown inducted new members into the Chaîne and the Mondiale, along with elevations for Bailli George Elliott, Vice Chancelier-Argentier Dave Szkutak, Vice Conseiller Gastronomique Marilyn Harris, and Vice Echanson Mike Monnin. A planned succession of leadership is crucial to maintain vitality in any bailliage and ours looks to have a promising future. Accolades were given to all the volunteers that made a success for the competition as we anticipated the winner, most notably Conseiller Culinaire Provincial Midwest Art Inzinga. Bailli Honoraire Irwin Weinberg was presented with the Silver Star of Excellence for his years of work and philosophy towards supporting gastronomic excellence in the next generation of chefs and restaurateurs. Bailli Provincial Midwest John Burson presented an additional award of $5000 to the culinary program at Cincinnati State for a total of $8000 for the weekend.
Young Chef Maria Lodyguina from Minneapolis reigned victorious in her second year at regional competition, and experience surely gave her an advantage in this culinary crucible. Born in Russia, Maria studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis, worked at the Rainier Club in Seattle, returned to Cosmos in Minneapolis, and has been a promising assistant chef at the Minneapolis Club. Maria progressed to the National Competition held in June in San Antonio with hopes to continue to Istanbul.
We had been tempted with munchies and sparkling Roederer Estate at the reception, but now our dinner expectations were amplified. Coincidentally, Executive Chef Todd Kelly recently went through his own cooking contest, participating with the American Culinary Institute in Columbus, Ohio where he achieved victory in the Northeast Regional Competition. His restaurant at Netherland Plaza, Orchids, has been rated the best restaurant by Cincinnati Magazine for three years in a row, so an amuse bouche of curried cauliflower custard with salmon roe, bacon, and crème fraîche served in a quail shell got our attention. We continued on with a rich and creamy lobster salad atop crunchy potato straws and a “fried” egg that seemed like a luscious breakfast with Sbragia Sauvignon Blanc. Next was tasty yellow tail snapper with a nice touch of Dungeness crab and cute tiny Shimeji mushrooms. This wonderful flavor combination came with a fantastic Ridge Chardonnay from their Santa Cruz estate vineyards that showed a great balance to match the complex array of flavors.
Our seasonal feast continued with spring rabbit done roulade style with foie gras, Serrano ham, and white asparagus that made a very pretty presentation. Here we enjoyed En Route Les Pommiers Pinot Noir, a Russian River selection from the purveyors of Far Niente and Nickel and Nickel, which had a wonderful spicy bramble nose, prominent red fruit, and a long dry finish. The main entrée was another spring offering with a lamb duet of braised shoulder and roasted loin. Spring lamb done two ways begged for two great reds, and we were happy to savor and compare Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 with Nickel and Nickel Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. Dessert was another duet of warm chocolate bar on toasted marshmallow with a yuzu tart. This twist on homey themes was served with a great surprise of Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1994, showing elegance in age with stature and dignity. Finally we nibbled mignardises at the conclusion of a weekend of memorable celebration while Chef Todd visited to acknowledge the Netherland staff as we gave applause and acclaim for a time to be reminisced for years to come.
J.T. Mayer, Chargé de Presse Provincial Midwest