Monday, January 21, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fire Up Those Grills!

Cast iron chefs do battle this weekend!

No, this is not Food Network's wildly popular version of Japan's Iron Chef TV show. I'm talking about the 3rd Annual Cast Iron Cook-Off taking place at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, WV on Saturday. Amy and I will be there and we can't wait!

This event is the brain-child of a dear friend along side whom I had the pleasure of working during my WDTV days, the Executive Chef of Stonewall Resort, Dale Hawkins. As the man in charge of all of the food enjoyed by resort guests, Dale has a passion for the locally grown produce and farm raised protein used in his restaurants. So zealous is his passion that he, along with several other like-minded folks in the hospitality and agriculture industries, introduced the world to the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia - a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and providing programs that connect local farmers and growers to chefs and consumers while invoking the storied utensils, recipes, and ingredients of their mountain heritage.

21C's largest (fun)draising event is the Cast Iron Cook-Off - an Iron Chef style cooking competition featuring multiple teams consisting of one head chefs and amateur cooks hwo must prepare 5 gourmet dishes featuring locally grown/raised products while implementing the use of cast iron. Each team has one hour to prepare their menu from start to finish then present each course to the judges. Their dishes will be judged on originality, taste, presentation, cast-iron uses, team work, and amount of local ingredients used.

Last year, I was invited to enjoy the great honor of being the Emcee for the 4-hour competition with my co-emcee Nancy Bulla. We had such a wonderful time running all over the conference hall to talk to the chefs and other cooks, then racing to the judging table for their reactions and comments to what was going on and the plates of food coming off these teams' tables! By the end of the competition, I was just about spent...but I loved every minute of it! I never knew playing Alton Brown could be this much fun!

Following the cook off Dr. Allen D. Arnold, 21C's founding director, asked me to join the Collaborative as the Co-Director of Marketing. I have served for a year now and it has been a pure joy! We have come up with some fresh ideas for the future and continue to receive grants to allow us to bring these plans into fruition. I'm really excited about our new promotional DVD that we'll be sending to the Food Network and other corporations in the hospitality and agriculture industry. With any luck, we'll have the folks from Chelsea Market, NY coming to the mountains for a taste of Appalachian goodness!

Well, I've been invited back to the Cook-off this year and Amy and I will be going down this Friday to the Stonewall Resort for all of the festivities. This go 'round, Nancy and I will be Emcee-ing the whole event from the Welcome Banquet and Team Introductions on Friday night, through the competition on Saturday that now features 18 teams, to the 5 course wine-paring/awards ceremonial dinner on Saturday night. In addition to taking care of our room and food needs while we are there (like they did last year), 21C has allowed me to treat Amy to pampering spa treatments and relaxing massages while I'm in the throws of competition. Their hospitality is boundless!

Here's to you having as much fun this weekend as we will!


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