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Sunnyside chef 'best of the best'

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Fresh Chef of the Mid-Columbia Roger Hazzard

Count Bon Vino's chef Roger Hazzard as the best of the best in the region.

Hazzard was named "Fresh Chef of the Mid-Columbia" this past Sunday after winning a competition held at the TRAC in Pasco.

Similar to the Iron Chef television show, Hazzard and another chef went head to head, given the same ingredients and 45 minutes to create a masterpiece meal.

A total of 10 chefs, some from as far away as Walla Walla, participated in the contest hosted by Savor the Flavor. Contestants with the top two scores then advanced to the final round.

Hazzard's competitor in the opening round was Fabricio Mengarelli, chef at Katya's Restaurant and Wine Bar in Kennewick.

As it turned out, Hazzard and Mengarelli had the top two scores and faced each other in a re-match in the championship final.

Hazzard said the judges didn't indicate which chef had the highest score during the first round, just that he and Mengarelli qualified for the finale. Likewise, when the winner was announced judges did not indicate by how many points Hazzard prevailed over Mengarelli.

Hazzard punched his ticket to the final with a menu that featured a Parmesan cheese bowl filled with coconut milk wild rice, dried fruit and fresh blueberries topped with roasted duck.

The duck was crusted in herb Dijon mustard and sauteed Chantrelle mushrooms accompanied by caramelized fennel and sweet apples.

Hazzard and the other chefs knew in advance what ingredients would be availble in the pantry. The trick, though, is they didn't know what protein they would be given to center their meal around. As a result, Hazzard said he spent about a month drawing up meal pairings to go with any protein the judges might provide, ranging from beef to chicken.

While the first round gave the chefs a duck breast to work with, the finals presented Hazzard and Mengarelli with a whole chicken.

Referring to his homework from the past month, Hazzard whipped up boiled red and purple potatoes under sautéed vegetable compote wrapped in a French crepe. The creation was topped with Panco chicken breast drizzled with chicken giblet cream sauce and mascarpone cheese.

In the finals, Hazzard said the chefs were presented with a secret ingredient that was not revealed until the time of the competition. That ingredient was cactus pear, which Hazzard used in the vegetable compote.

Hazzard had to create the menu in front of a live audience for five different plates, one for presentation and one each for the four judges.

One of the judges was Dave Martin, the first contestant to win Bravo's Top Chef reality TV program.

Besides the honor of being the Mid-Columbia's best fresh chef, Hazzard received a cooking knife and gift card for the kitchen.

While happy with the honor, Hazzard was quick to point out his inspiration for entering the contest; Chef Andy Jones who passed away this year.

"Andy really wanted me to compete against him last year," Hazzard said of the 2009 Fresh Chef competition. Duties and responsibilities at the restaurant kept him from competing. As it turned out, Jones, who was a chef in Prosser, ended up winning last year's event.

"I did this in remembrance of him," Hazzard said of taking the 2010 crown. "Our prayers are with Andy and his family."

Hazzard also thanked his sous chef, Brad Smith, who assisted him in the competition, and Aztlan Sportswear for creating chef hats for the event.

Hazzard's victory means the Lower Valley has claimed the last two Fresh Chef titles in the Mid-Columbia.

"We're really striving to pair foods with the great wine the Lower Valley is putting out," Hazzard said of strides being made in local kitchens. "We want to see the industry keep going."

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