Vero’s 8th Annual Top Chef Finale Event Review
by Thomas Miller – Food Blogger for Vero Vine
The Vero Beach Top Chef Event for 2016 is now in the books! Who took the Top Chef title? You will have to wait until the end of the article to find out, but first I invite you to experience the event through my eyes and taste buds. The food was outstanding! Some really creative thinking on the chef’s part.
Some items I have seen before, and some were new and completely different from what I have experienced before. Below I will take you through the evening and each of the four courses and dessert, so you can experience what I and the other diners did that night.
The event was held at The Club at Pointe West and was the perfect location for such an event. The reception hall was elegant and beautifully decorated. The room was dimly lit and accented with some green lighting around the room. Upon entry I checked into the registration table and walked down the hallway to the dining room. The first thing that caught my eye was the dining tables. The chairs were covered with white linen, and a black table cloth covering the tables. The napkins were white and were draped over the edge of the table at each seat location. Each diner was then presented with 4 forks on the left, and 4 knives on the right with the evening program in between. At the top of the program was your dessert fork and spoon. Each diner had a water glass, 4 wine glasses, and one dessert wine glass.
The decoration in the middle of the table was subtle, but very nicely done with a mason jar stuffed with cooking utensils and a yellow flower for a splash of color. Simply beautiful!
The evening started off at 6:00pm with mingling and drinks from the bar, and a silent auction to help raise additional funds for the Hope for Families Center. The welcome and other introductions started at 7:00pm, and dinner service started shortly after that. I was seated at table 3 and had a great time getting to know the other guests at the table. Three of them in particular I talked with a lot over dinner about their likes, dislikes and overall opinion about the dishes as they were served. A special thank you to Shelby, Justin, and Brittney for your thoughts and comments throughout the evening. Each dish was served anonymously so we could not pick a favorite if we knew who prepared what.
Now let’s dive right in with the first course of the evening!
1st Course: Stack of Maine Lobster & Three Cheese Eggplant Parmesan served with a Pink Cream & Mango Slaw.
Wine Pairing: Skyfall Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley
Dish Comments: I tried the Lobster stack first, which kind of looked like a small crab cake. It had a light crunch on the outside, but was soft and tender inside. It was seasoned nicely and had a fair amount of lobster inside.
I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but the eggplant parmesan was spectacular! I wish it had a slightly crispier coating to add another element of texture to it. The slaw was a table favorite, lots of positive comments about it. It was creamy and slightly sweet from the mango. The seaweed salad had a slight Asian flavor to it, and was not a table favorite.
2nd Course: Crispy Pancetta Seared Kurobuta Pork & Tangerine Shrimp – Barrel Cut Berkshire Pork Loin, Glazed Jumbo White Ecuadorian Shrimp, Creamed Corn, Spicy Heirloom Tomato Relish, Oven Roasted Brussels Sprout, Sweet Baby Corn
Wine Pairing: Beringer Founders Estate Chardonnay, California
Dish Comments: I tried the carrots first and they were sweet, smoky, were slightly spicy and had a crunch to them. They were very good! Next I tried the shrimp and thought it was a little over cooked, as did the rest of the diners at our table, but everyone did like the spicy heirloom tomato relish on top of the shrimp. The piece of pork I had was cooked to medium, but that was not the case for everyone. The diner to my right said hers was undercooked for her taste. The pork had a smoky flavor from the pancetta, but was not as tender as I had hoped. The table consensus was that the chef should have used pork tenderloin, and not just loin for this dish.
3rd Course: Duet of Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin & Seafood Strudel of Lobster, Shrimp, & Scallop – Shallot Prepared Demi, Saffron Hollandaise, Shiitake Mushroom Risotto, Seasonal Roasted Root Vegetables, Chive Oil
Wine Pairing: Skyfall Merlot, Columbia Valley
Dish Comments: I went for the vegetables first, and the asparagus was some of the best I have ever had. It was cooked perfectly, tender and seasoned nicely. The carrots had a slight crunch to them, and they were good. I went for the beef tenderloin next and it was absolutely fabulous! Cooked to a perfect medium rare, and seasoned to perfection. You could taste the wine in the demi, and it was delicious! Everyone at the table commented how perfectly their tenderloin was cooked and how impressed they were with this dish! I left the seafood strudel for last since this was something I have never tried before, and I was very impressed with it. The strudel was flaky, the seafood was cooked and seasoned to perfection! I think this was my favorite part of this dish!
Before the next course was served, I was curious to see how all of these dishes were put together and expedited out of the kitchen so quickly. I decided to pay a quick visit to the kitchen between these courses to get a sneak peek at how they pulled this off. Below are some images from the kitchen and my comments about them below the pictures.
4th Course: Peasants Purse – Phyllo Dough Stuffed with Braised Oxtail, Micro Root Vegetables, Oxen Demi
Wine Pairing: Campo Viejo Garnacha, Rioja, Spain
Dish Comments: The presentation looks like a present, and indeed it was! The phyllo dough was crispy on the outside, yet somewhat doughy in flavor inside the package. This added an element of richness to this dish, which was my favorite of the evening! The demi was bold and full of flavor, and the oxtail was perfectly cooked and very tender. The table consensus was that this dish was too rich for some, but others loved it and thought it was the clear winner of the evening. My only complaint about it was that I did get a small round bone in the package mixed in with the meat.
The last course of the evening was dessert, but this was not being voted on since the competition for it was done at the preliminary round. Chef Lisa Damiano was the winner and below is what she prepared for us this evening.
Dessert Course: A Study of Seasons – Pear & Goat Cheese Fritter, Sticky Toffee Date & Chocolate Pudding atop a date barrel, Key Lime Raspberry mousse Tart, and finally a Chocolate Malt Ice Cream Bar. Items are in order from left to right on the picture below.
Wine Pairing: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva, Spain
Dish Comments: The first one on the left was light and crunchy, you could taste the cheese, but was not as tangy as I expected the goat cheese to be, but still it was very good! The second from the left is what Chef Lisa made for the preliminary round and won her place here tonight. I think tonight’s version was even better than it was in the preliminary round! Very moist, super chocolaty, it was fantastic! Third from the left on the spoon was the Key Lime Raspberry Mousse Tart. You could definitely taste the key lime in the mousse, but not much of the raspberry. Texture was smooth and creamy! And last but not least, was my favorite on the entire plate! The Chocolate Malt Ice Cream Bar, which after tasting I did not get that at all. It had a crunch to it and had a strong peanut butter flavor to it which was great, but not what I was expecting. While the name did not fit the dessert for me, it was my favorite of the four on the plate.
At this point in the evening, they were ready to announce the winner(s), but first they told us which chef/restaurant made what course for us this evening.
1st Course – Joey’s Seafood Shack: Chef Joey Fenyak and Chef Kim Coveny
2nd Course – Bent Pine Golf Club: Chef Tyler Colby
3rd Course – Indian River State College: Chef David Schneider
4th Course – Riverside Cafe: Chef Patrick Hughes
The winner(s) were determined in two ways. There was a panel of 3 professional chefs that tasted and critiqued each dish and settled on a winner, and the People’s Choice Award. The 3 guest chef judges were Chef Dean Evans from Oak Harbor Club, who happens to be a two time winner of the Top Chef competition, Chef Adam Walker from the Center of Plate Specialist, Gordon Food Service, and Dr Harold Cordner, Former President of the Space Coast La Chaine. For the People’s Choice Award, each diner had a vote to say which dish was their favorite. All votes were collected and the winner determined.
And now the results! Winner of the Judges Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award was Chef David Schneider from the Indian River State College!!! Congratulations to you on winning both of these prestigious awards!
In Conclusion: The Hope for Families Center does some fantastic work in the community! Judging by the turnout at this and the preliminary event, the community really seems to care about what they do by coming out and supporting such a great cause. It was a true honor and a privilege to be able to attend this event. If you were not there, then you missed the PREMIER dinner party in Vero Beach of the YEAR!