Friday, February 8, 2008

Fun Playing with Food For A Good Cause

Last night, Bob and I attended the 14th Annual Cleveland's Greatest Hors D'oeuvre Contest, which benefits Our Lady of the Wayside. This event usually brings together the top chefs of Cleveland, each hoping to win some bragging rights and to raise money for a great cause.

A few of my favorites from prior years were missing last night - Paul Minillo of Baricelli Inn, Doug Katz of fire, Brandt Evans of Blue Canyon, Michael Symon of Lola/Lolita and Michelangelo's Bakery. And Rocco Whalen of Fahrenheit was called away by restaurant business, though his cuisine was still represented. Nevertheless, there was plenty of savory food. And the wine, beer and soft drinks flowed all night, as did the sounds of Saborit Latin Soul.

A caveat - because I wanted to photograph all of the food, we staked out a table and I stayed there for the most part. Bob brought me the dishes and made notes on what they were. However, I may have an description or ingredient wrong. If anyone out there has a correction - hey - that's what the "comments" feature on this Blog is for!

We began our tasting with an almost bittersweet moment, having our last sample of one of Dominic Cerino's signature dishes:

Norcian Lentils with House-Made Guanciale, Sausage & Peppers and Focaccia Bread

I cleaned the plate with my bread and pronounced it "plate licking good" - which it was. Carmen and Jo Marie Cerino, who are carrying on the traditions of Carrie Cerino's without brother Dominic, were also present - we wished all of the Cerinos the best in their next and ongoing endeavors! This dish tied for Third Place.

Next up - Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery - Chef Nick Vidovic:

House-Made Pastrami on Rye Topped with Tomato Sauce

This was most tasty - but I would have preferred mustard and not tomato with the pastrami. It must be that New York-Jewish girl thing.

Parallax Restaurant - Zach Bruell:

Seared Peppered Tuna with Cucumber Sushi

This tuna was exquisite - exquisitely fresh, exquisitely cooked, and served with a lovely ginger slaw. As for the sushi - the cucumber slipped out quite nicely, and the rice and nori tasted of expert preparation. The creamy aoli deftly parried the spicy tuna. This dish tied with Dominic Cerino's for Third Place.

The Woods Restaurant
- Chef Chad Chillemi:

Rolled Stuffed Bread with Sausage, Cheese and Spicy Sauce

We loved the spicy sauce, which had a smokey-chipotle component and another chile we couldn't quite place. Most tasty.

Skyelarae's Culinary - Chef Eric Wells:

Moroccan Shrimp with Pineapple

A sweet and savory bite, all in one! Well done, Chef Eric!

Sammy's Catering - Chef John Taylor:

Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chop Over Polenta

I think the sauce drizzled over the meat was based in plumb. Or was it cherry? Oh well - I really loved this dish! I can't believe that this fantastic dish, perfectly executed, did not place in the top three.

Corleone's Restaurant (last year's winner) - Chef Vito Carrieri:

Crispy Shrimp with Polenta and a Creamy Sauce

I can't blame Chef Carrieri for going with shrimp again - that was his winning ingredient last year. This presentation was very nice, but not a winner.

John Q's Steakhouse - Chef Jesse Scott:

Scallop w/Lobster Mousse

The scallop itself was good, but not great, however, the lobster mousse was rich and creamy, and the reduction on the plate gave the scallop good flavors.

Johnny's Downtown - Chef Rob Records

Seared Duck Breast Topped with Cherries and Walnuts, with Goat Cheese

I really liked this - except, for my palate, the goat cheese just didn't go with duck meat. The duck was perfectly cooked, however, and the cherries, nuts and jus all went together very nicely.

Vue Restaurant & Lounge - Chef Rick Carson

Firecracker Shrimp

Spicy, crunchy, shrimpy - what's not to like?

World's Fare Culinary - Chef Brian Doyle

Pulled Berkshire Pork with Mango Chipotle

Chef Brian has recently joined Good Taste Market as a chef, and has also brought out his own line of Chameleon Chef products, which we look forward to sampling. This bite was heavenly - cooked perfectly and seasoned just right.

Fahrenheit Restaurant - Chef Rocco Whelan

Mini Burger with Tomato Relish and Bleu Cheese

I confess that by the time we reached the last three items, I was pretty full. Nevertheless, I carried on. This burger was tasty and not overwhelmed by the bleu cheese, which was a little strong for my taste. The star of the dish was the fresh tomato relish.

Sushi Rock - Chef Angel Samano

Beef Sushi

This dish took Second Place. I do not mean to be unkind or disrespectful, but I can't figure out how. It was the only dish I tasted that I affirmatively did not like - the meat was tough as nails, the sauce disagreed with me, and even the rice tasted off. Oh well, as I often say, different strokes for different folks.

Henry's at the Barn - Chef Paul Jagielski

Louisiana Shrimp with Cheesy Grits and Corn Hushpuppy

And this dish, folks, took First Place. But I was so full by this time, I did not even taste the shrimp. I did really enjoy my bites of the grits and hushpuppy - but I was done.

One thing I can never understand about this contest is why so many of the chefs use seafood products that cannot be had anywhere near to fresh in this part of the world - in my opinion, there are severe limits on how much yummy factor you can get from frozen shrimp, canned crab, and the like. Still - a frozen shrimp won last year, so what the heck do I know? What I do know is that we got to spend two full hours playing with overwhelmingly tasty food for a good cause, and playing with food doesn't get any better than that! And all of these chefs deserve big thank yous for donating their food, their time, their helpers and their talent for this event.


  1. mentioned your photographs on my blog this morning, all compliments, though.

  2. "One thing I can never understand about this contest is why so many of the chefs use seafood products that cannot be had anywhere near to fresh in this part of the world" -

    There is only so much one can do with walleye. So you might want to take a look into production, preparation and distribution of seafood products. Unless you are a shack on the side on the road in coastal South Carolina, for example, serving deep fried shrimp (and nothing but shrimp)you are going to be serving seafood that is not locally caught. Today, the stuff is frozen right on the boats on which it is caught, or iced down and flown out that day to points around the country. I could not handle "fresh" walleye everyday. So I gladly accept this minute trade-off for a wonderful variety of seafood dishes like Henry's in Avon i.e., serves. I've met with the owner there and he gets much of his product "jet fresh" from Foley's Seafood in Boston. That's the BEST you can do in the midwest. Hats off to Chef Paul at Henry's at the Barn. Well done and well deserved!
    ed m. in Cleveland

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your blog. Great information and the photo's are wonderful. We had a great evening thanks to all of the amazing chefs that supported this event. We raised more than $27,000! We have other foodie and wine events coming up. Would love to get your feedback.