The 12th annual March of Dimes Akron Signature Chefs Auction has come and gone for year 2010. For myself and lucky reader Cheryl, who happened to win two free tickets for herself and a guest courtesy of the March of Dimes, we got to experience some of Akron's finest food and wine purveyors in a casual and fun setting. While the doors opened at 5:00 PM and didn't close until the auction was over around 9:00 PM, my primary role as co-judge today took place mainly between 6:00 and 7:30 PM, where we tasted, sampled, and tasted again some thirteen different dishes from various restaurants and catering companies.
Some of the usual suspects that I've already reviewed were there: On Market Catering / Market Gourmet at Montrose, Olde Harbor Inn, Old Carolina BBQ, and Chowder House Cafe. Others, such as The Rusty Nail, Mr. Zub's Deli, Nick Anthe's, and The VegiTerranean are definitely now on my "To Eat" list. While I am not going to go into too much critique about the food here on the blog, I definitely wanted to showcase the dishes that each vendor brought to the table. Literally.
Plus, in an effort to continually improve my food photography, I have recently invested in a new digital camera, a Canon PowerShot G12. Technically still a point-and-shoot, it has some really nifty features and represents a major step up from my old standby, the built-in camera on my HTC Incredible Android phone. While there are still quite a few blog posts queued up over the next month featuring images from the latter, today's entry will be an introduction to the incredibly advanced image quality of the new G12. If you feel so inclined, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of the photography (or anything else for that matter).
Before I start talking about the food, here was a three panel board talking about the services and the critical mission of the March of Dimes:
So much has been accomplished over the years, but there is so much more to do to eliminate birth defects in babies.
Without further ado, on to the food!
First up was Chef Louis Prpich from the Chowder House Cafe:
This was his Three Little Piggies, a whimsical dish of bacon wrapped pork tenderloin over pulled pork. This is currently available on Chowder House Cafe's menu.
Next was a selection of cheeses from Lucky Penny Farms:
Lucky Penny presented us with two kinds of goats milk cheeses tonight: Greek Feta and Chevre. The Feta was tossed with herbs in olive oil and the Chevre was smeared over an almond biscuit and topped with a little local honey and salted almonds.
Chef Mary Wills from The Good Fork brought us two tastes tonight:
The first taste was the modicum of simplicity: Mustard greens with Greek Feta that had been dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
The second dish was butternut squash soup that had been adorned with a small strip of crispy New Creations Farms bacon:
Chef Scot Jones from The VegiTerranean couldn't be at the event tonight, but he sent his Sous Chef in his place with this lovely soup:
Butternut seemed to be the vegetable of the evening tonight! This was a Butternut Squash Bisque infused with roasted shallot, Vidalia onion, and rosemary which was then topped with a local apple cider reduction and a sprig of fresh sage.
The chefs from Olde Harbor Inn brought this exciting rolled savory dish to our table next:
This was a sweet corn lobster crepe filled with mushroom and topped with a bit of micro-greens and a perfumed drops of white truffle oil. I could smell the truffle oil way before I tasted the dish.
One of the few female chefs at the event tonight, Tera Long from Nick Anthe's, presented our only pasta course for the evening:
She presented us with a chargrilled halibut ravioli with lemon-infused pesto, Asiago and Parmesan cheeses, and shallots.
Chef Jeffrey Winer from On Market Catering / Market Gourmet at Montrose, made quite a showing with this small, but powerful bite:
Chef Winer gave us a Persian Shiraza salad in a small pretzel cup dressed with a bit of grapeseed oil and topped with a lusciously creamy yogurt and mint sauce. (This was actually one of my favorite pictures from tonight.)
Mr. Zub's Deli, a restaurant recently added to the Akron scene, decided to submit one of their homemade soups:
Mr. Zub's Deli was actually serving six of their soups tonight, but the one presented to us was a Spicy Tomato Bisque. With spice from both Jalapeño chilies and cayenne powder, this caused a mild two-alarm fire in both the front and the back of my mouth.
The chef from The Rusty Nail presented us with a lovely seafood course:
This was a perfectly a la minute seared scallop seasoned with dried sage over a roasted butternut squash puree and brown butter sauce.
For our final savory course, the folks from Old Carolina BBQ Company gave us something not particularly BBQ-y:
On the plate was a soft flour tortilla containing a Baha-style mahi mahi that had been prepped in a spicy citrus rub before being grilled and accompanied by a garlic aioli (which, yes, gentle reader, I realize is redundant), corn, cilantro, and a wedge of lime.
Our first dessert course today came from Chocolate Mischief:
From noon going clockwise were the pumpkin tart, the coconut walnut brownie, the cinnamon buttermilk cookie and the gingerbread cookie.
Jenn Thomas from JennCanCook.com presented a second round of cookies with her entry:
Again from noon going clockwise, this time we had the peanut butter blossom, the coffee caramel chip cookie, and the hazelnut orange peel cookie.
Our final sweet and overall course was from the West Side Bakery on Market Street:
This final bite of the evening came on a stick. Specifically it was an incredibly moist spiced cake ball that had been coated (a la chocolate truffle style) in milk chocolate and then drizzled with decorative swirls of additional chocolate.
So there you have it, gentle reader: a full stomach and a look at all of the food the judges had the privilege of tasting tonight. After tallying and averaging out all of the scores (which ended up being handled by yours truly), it turned out that Olde Harbor Inn, with its Lobster Crepe took top billing. Following closely behind in second place with their Butternut Squash Bisque and Apple Cider Gastrique was The VegiTerranean and in third place with their Baha-style Fish Taco was Old Carolina BBQ Company. While my personal favorite didn't make it into the top three (On Market Gourmet, if you were wondering), at least my personal score for spot number two matched the final outcome.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank both Nici Hefflefinger, who helped to organize the event and the judges; Joe Harvey, who seems to curiously have his hand in anything culinary related; and my fellow judges: Jane Snow, Lisa Abraham, Catherine St. John, and Michael Ferris, previously the Executive Chef at Vaccaro's Trattoria in Akron and who has now opened up his own company, Gourmet By Design Catering. It was truly an honor and a privilege to have my name next to those gastronomic stalwarts.
So that's all for this year's event. I hope you enjoyed eating vicariously through my photos and I am eagerly looking forward to next year's gathering. Hopefully, I can return as a judge and get to relive this wonderful and important event all over again. If you weren't able to attend the auction this year but would still like to make a much needed donation to the March of Dimes, please feel free to click here.