by Thomas Miller – Food Blogger for Vero Vine
I had the extreme honor of attending this year’s 8th Annual Top Chef Event, hosted by the Hope for Families Center. 16 local chefs were in attendance, and they each made a dish to sample, and the guests attending the event had the opportunity taste them and vote for their favorite dishes. There were 4 dessert offerings, and 12 savory dishes presented. As a certified foodie, this is my Super Bowl! Expert chefs cooking their absolute best dishes for us to sample and critique, hoping to score with their best dishes. From what I sampled tonight, there were definitely more than a few touchdowns! Below are the chefs in this year’s competition, what restaurant they work for, and the dish they prepared for the event.
Now on to the FOOD!
Booth #1 – The Wave Kitchen & Bar
Dish Presented: Rum Chata Flan with Cinnamon Weep Cream & Almond Candy
by Chef Omar Oscasio
Dish Comments: The flan had a cake like texture, and was very moist. The cream was actually in a small glass vial that was stuck into the side of the cake. Upon serving, the chef removed the vial and poured the cream over the top of the dish for presentation. The flan was topped with a caramel candy disk and candied almonds. Overall the dish had great flavor and was nicely presented.
Booth #2 – Counter Culture
Dish Presented: Medjool Date & Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
by Chef Lisa Damiano
Dish Comments: I did not notice until I was reviewing the pictures, but it looks as if the serving dish is made out of a corn husk? Interesting to say the least! The cake was extremely moist with chunks of chocolate in it. The date flavor was very subtle but noticeable, and the glass sugar decoration on top did have a slight toffee flavor. Overall this was a fantastic dessert!
Booth #3 – Sweet Creations
Dish Presented: Awesome Sauce Cheesecake
by Chef Lori Young
Dish Comments: Cheesecake is one of my absolute favorite desserts, so I was really looking forward to trying this one. This piece that I sampled seemed to be moist, but lacked a true cheesecake flavor. Not sure if it was not enough sugar or vanilla. You had the option of having either a raspberry or chocolate sauce added on top of the cheesecake. I chose the raspberry and it was very thick and had only a slight sweetness, and was quite tart. Unfortunately this dessert fell short of my expectations.
Booth #4 – Indian River State College
Dish Presented: Chocolate Carmel Cupcake/Chocolate Truffle/Vanilla Bean Ice Cream w/ caramel sauce
by Katherine Grech
Dish Comments: A very nicely presented dish and quite tasty too! The cupcake was very moist, and was topped with a chocolate candy shell, and a half a piece of caramel sitting on top. The chocolate truffle was coated with nuts and was the most decadent part of the dish! It was smooth, with a light crunch from the nuts, with this explosive chocolate flavor! I wish I would have had time to go back and get another one, it was that good! The vanilla ice cream was also very good, but definitely not the star of this dish. Overall it was an excellent showing for the IRSC Team!
Booth #5 – Joey’s Seafood Shack
Dish Presented: Lobster Stuffed Jumbo Prawn with Pineapple Seaweed Salad
by Chef Kim Coveny and Chef Joey Fenyak
Dish Comments: The prawn was cooked perfectly, seasoned to perfection, and the lobster filling was delicate and flavorful. The seaweed salad was crunchy, sweet, and had a little tang to it. Seaweed is not something I would normally eat, but I really enjoyed it. A very nice dish!
Booth #6 – Osceola Bistro
Dish Presented: Classic Roasted Chicken Breast, Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Green Beans
by Chef Christopher Bireley
Dish Comments: I was a little surprised to see such a simple dish prepared for a Top Chef competition, but was pleasantly surprised when I tasted it. The chicken was cooked and seasoned to perfection. It was juicy and very tender! The mashed potatoes were good, but did not stand out, and the green beans added a splash of color to this classic dish. A very good dish, but not the show stopper you need for this level of competition.
Booth #7 – Bent Pine Golf Club
Dish Presented: Quail Three Ways
by Chef Tyler Colby
Dish Comments: Bent Pine went all out on this dish and their booth decoration. The booth was beautifully decorated with elegantly carved melons, wheat grass, and multiple levels to present their fabulous offering. It is a deviled quails egg, with Confit of Quail on top of the egg, with quail skin cooked like bacon and sprinkled over the top! It was absolutely delicious! A very well constructed booth and a dish to match! Very nicely done!
Booth #8 – A Fraiche Note Catering
Dish Presented: Gazpacho da Capo
by Chef Cassandra Lynne
Dish Comments: It’s a Span-Asian inspired zesty gazpacho in a cucumber bowl with a lemon shrimp topped with an avocado mousse. I was impressed with the presentation of this dish. The first thing you eat is the shrimp off the skewer which was cooked perfectly, then gently pick up the cucumber bowl which presented its own challenges since it was soft due to the gazpacho inside, drink the sweet & spicy ginger-lime, sriracha broth from the bottom of the cup. The gazpacho had great tomato based flavor with just a slight kick at the end.
Booth #9 – Quail Valley River Club
Dish Presented: Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with Blue Cheese Flan and Buffalo Sauce
by Chef Brian Jones
Dish Comments: The bacon wrapped shrimp was a little hard to eat off the skewer, since it was wrapped so tightly, but the flavors paired well together. The blue cheese flan had a nice texture and a slight blue cheese flavor, not overbearing at all. The buffalo sauce was fantastic, but I was a little confused by its existence with this dish, and what I was supposed to eat it with? Was it for dipping the bacon wrapped shrimp, or to eat with the flan? I’m not sure, but it definitely went fine with the flan!
Booth #10 – The Legacy
Dish Presented: Chicken and Waffles
by Chef Rodney Smith
Dish Comments: This was an interesting idea, really thinking outside the box. Take a classic dish, and change it up a bit. The waffle was made with cornmeal and buttermilk, and the filling was a chicken liver mousse. It was topped with pickled apples and maple glazed bacon. The mouse was piped into each of the three holes on the top of the waffle, a pickled apple on top, and the maple bacon sprinkled over the top. The chicken liver mousse was smooth and had a nice flavor, not overpowering, The pickled apples did not have a strong vinegar flavor from the pickling, and I don’t think my sample had any maple glazed bacon on top, because I could not taste it, or it was just too subtle. Very clever idea!
Booth #11 – Cuisine Machine
Dish Presented: Scallop Crudo with Scotch Bonnet Pepper infused Orange Lime Juice, Water Chestnuts, Micro Arugula, Salmon Caviar & Smoked Sea Salt Foam
by Chef Tyler Ketcham and Chef Eddie Hunter
Dish Comments: The presentation was stunning, a very well thought out dish. Being an Italian inspired dish, the chef, whether or not this was intentional, made use of the three colors from the Italian flag. The green from the micro arugula, the white from the foam and the scallop, and the red from the salmon caviar. I expected the sauce to have a little more heat to it, considering it was infused with scotch bonnet peppers, but it was delicious none the less. It was mixed with the water chestnuts and I think was one of my favorite parts of this dish. The scallop was wonderful as well. This was my first time trying any type of flavored foam, and it was hard to discern the smoked flavor and the sea salt. Perhaps I just did not have enough of it to taste? This was an impressive dish!
Booth #12 – Vero’s Caribbean Kitchen
Dish Presented: Caribbean Pork with Yellow Rice and Shrimp in Citrus Butter Sauce with White Rice
by Chef Charles Cervone
Dish Comments: I’ve passed by this place several times in my travels, but have not had a chance to stop in yet. That will change now after sampling their pork dish! The pork was very tender and was served with what looks like a spicy pineapple chutney over yellow rice. The sauce was amazing and had just the right amount of kick to it! It was the perfect Caribbean style dish to represent this restaurant! The shrimp in citrus butter sauce was good, but not the show stopper needed for this level of competition. The pork dish, while still a fairly simple dish, was the better of the two presented.
Booth #13 – Riverside Cafe
Dish Presented: Thai Ahi Tuna Salad with Crispy Vegetable Slaw and Crunchy Wonton
by Chef Patrick Hughes
Dish Comments: This dish was stunning to look at! It had lots of colors going on, different textures and flavors too. The fried wonton was crispy as expected, and the crispy vegetable slaw was nicely dressed with a slightly sweet and tangy dressing. The Thai Ahi Tuna salad was hard to distinguish any particular flavor and had absolutely no heat to it, which I was expecting a little of since it’s a Thai inspired dish. Regardless of any heat in the tuna salad, it was a fantastic dish!
Booth #14 – The Tides
Dish Presented: Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Rosemary Cheddar Biscuits & Country Gravy
by Chef Scott Garrett
Dish Comments: Every element of this dish are things that I like, so I was really looking forward to trying this one. With The Tides being the #1 restaurant in Vero Beach on Trip Advisor, this is the one that I was looking forward to trying the most. Taking a bite and tasting all elements of this dish, it was hard to discern all of the different flavors separately, but together it was this wonderful amalgamation of the down home favorite chicken fried chicken. The biscuit was tender, but held together well. The chicken was fried until golden and slightly crunchy, and the gravy over the top was smooth and creamy! They topped it off with a mustard seed caviar and what appeared to be chopped scallions to complete this dish! This was definitely a hit amongst the guests that evening!
Booth #15 – Cobalt
Dish Presented: Shrimp & Grits with Candied Collard Greens and Red Eye Gravy
by Chef James Forest
Dish Comments: It was getting late in the evening, and we only had 2 hours to make it around to all of the booths, so I got to this one too late, as they had run out of the grits that went with the shrimp, so I was unable to fully experience the dish the chef had created. What I did get to try was the grilled shrimp and the candied collard greens. The shrimp were tasty, but I was really missing the smoked grits to go along with them. The collards were sweet and tender, and I don’t think there was any red eye gravy presented since the grits were not served.
Booth #16 – Indian River State College
Dish Presented: Braised Short Rib of Beef, Cheddar Polenta, horseradish Foam, and Natural Pan Sauce
by Chef David Schneider
Dish Comments: The short ribs looked fantastic. They had a natural pan sauce that coated the top of the short rib that was quite tasty! It was paired with a cheddar polenta which went well with the short rib. I tasted the horseradish foam, but I’m not a fan of horseradish in general so I did not care for it. Crispy fried onions completed the dish and were fried and seasoned nicely.
The one dessert chef and 4 savory chef winners were announced at the end of the night. The 4 savory chefs move on to compete at the finale to be Vero Beach’s Top Chef for 2016. The dessert chef that won will be making the dessert for the guests at the final competition. The finale will be on Monday, Feb 22nd at The Club of Pointe West at 6pm.
Savory Chefs moving on to the finale:
Chef Kim Coveny and Chef Joey Fenyak– Joey’s Seafood Shack
Chef Patrick Hughes – Riverside Cafe
Chef Tyler Colby – Bent Pine Golf Club
Chef David Schneider – Indian River State College
Dessert Chef moving on to the finale:
Chef Lisa Damiano – Counter Culture
This was my very first time attending this event, and I’m really impressed with the level of talent located here in Vero Beach. The event was very well attended, and the hall where it was held was almost too small for the amount of people that came. It was quite warm in the hall and somewhat difficult to make your way from table to table to meet the chefs and sample their creations. If the event keeps growing as it has for the past 8 years, they will definitely need a larger venue to accommodate this event. I for one, am already looking forward to attending the finale to see what dishes and desserts the winners come up with, and to see who comes out as Vero Beach’s Top Chef for 2016!