This morning, I was one of the panel of judges who determined which Utah chef will represent the Beehive at the cookoff in New Orleans in August.
Yes, I know. If you've ever been in NOLA in August, you'll realize this is a booby trap prize: The chef won an all-expense paid trip to Louisiana IN AUGUST. You think it's hot here now? The daily high in NOLA in August is 95+, "dipping" in the evening to a sweater-worthy 75. That's with an average humidity of, well, you could say 100% since August is the city's rainiest month.
In other words, you could bake, steam or boil your fish on the sidewalk in New Orleans in the summertime.
Nevertheless, three chefs gathered at Harmons City Creek yesterday morning to cook Koosharem trout for a panel of judges in hopes of winning this prize.
Briar Handley of the soon-to-open Handle in Park City,
Phelix Gardner of Pago
and Clement Gelas of Talisker on Main all brought their skills to bear on Utah's only worthy indigenous seafood, that red trout that cooks more like salmon.
The idea was to use as many Utah ingredients as possible–the folks from Utah's Own were on hand to police that.
Chef Handle's dish included Utah corn pudding, Slide Ridge Honey Wine Vinegar, local goat cheese, locally grown pea tendrils, Yukon Gold potatoes, peas, turnips and watercress from the Jordanelle as well as cured trout roe, trout-pork sausage and skin-on seared Koosharem trout. It was as much Utah as I've ever seen on one plate.
Chef Gelas's trout was served cool on a bright green slightly gelid soup of cucumber, sorrel, mint, and chive (which reminded everyone of green Jello, a funny play on Utah's favorite food), with baby pickled cucumber, nasturtium leaves and flowers and poached quail's egg. It was stunning.
Chef Gardner's dish was a clever play on bagels and lox—gently cold-smoked salmon with a sous-vide quail's egg, fingering potato chips and nasturtiums in a "everything bagel" vinaigrette with sesame and poppy seeds.
Every dish was truly terrific–the panel (myself, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, food maven Vanessa Chang, Cafe Madrid owner Gabrielle McAfee, KUTV news queen Mary Nickles) had a tough time deciding but in the end,
Chef Briar Handly will be gonig to New Orleans and pitting his fish kitchen skills against chefs from 14 other states.
Briar, take your raincoat. We'll be rooting for you.