An exciting time was to be had at this year's eighth annual Montana Master Chefs Event, which was held at The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mt., this past weekend of Sept. 26 to Sept. 29.
Participants included Kelly Liken, chef and restaurateur from Colorado; Brooke Williamson, chef and restaurateur from California; and returning participant Chris (CJ) Jacobsen, also from California. The event was emceed by John Romfo and his associate, who are the marketing team for Paws Up.
In a Chopped-like competition, each chef was presented with a "mystery basket" to prepare a course, and the rules were they had to use every ingredient in the basket plus anything in the supplied pantry. The pantry consisted of basic ingredients such as stocks, seasonings, and assorted vegetables. The chefs also had to prepare and plate each dish in the allotted time given.
First up was an appetizer. The mystery ingredients included snails, eggs, Cheddar cheese powder, and sprouted garlic. Liken's dish was a sautéed escargot appetizer, Williamson prepared a fresh salad, and Jacobsen made a rustic omelette.
Next up was an entrée. Three lucky guests were chosen from the audience to act as "sous chefs" for each participating chef. The main ingredient in this round was dried NY strip steak. The winner of this round was Liken, with a delightful pan-seared NY strip with a sweet date sauce accompanied by a yellow wax bean succotash. Liken prepared the NY strip in a cast-iron pan, proclaiming that it was the only way to make great NY strip.
One of the items in the entrée mystery basket was nasturtium flowers. Liken remarked that not only does she love to use nasturtiums as a garnish, but that she also "loves the peppery accent it imparts to anything it's served with."
The last and final round was the preparation of a dessert using foods found in vending machines, which included candy bars, potato chips, and various juices and fruits.
Also adding to the fun, an additional dish from each round was prepared to be auctioned to the highest-bidding guest. Proceeds of the auction were to benefit the Missoula Food Bank. The bidding became a fierce competition and one of chef Jacobsen's creations pulled in $1,000. Resort owner Nadine Lipson also announced that all winning bids would be matched by the resort. As a result of the generosity of the winning bidders and The Resort at Paws Up, $6,100 was raised for the food bank.
The judges had a difficult time deciding on the winner on the competition. In fact, it was a tie and there was a bonus tie-breaker round. When everything was tallied, the winner was Liken, who took home the coveted trophy.
After the awards, the chefs fielded questions from the audience. One question put to all the chefs was, "What is the one ingredient you will not touch with a 10-foot pole?" And the answer was a simultaneous, "Green bell peppers." When asked to elaborate why, chef Jacobsen simply replied humorously, "No comment."