Inside Scoop: Behind the Scenes of a Culinary Cook-Off Competition


Last October Graham and I spent a marvelous overnight at Cafe Cimino, decidedly one of the best places to eat (and stay in their b&b) in the state of West Virginia as well as the #1 place we have ever eaten now. I wrote about our experience in a Spotlight on blog.

Shortly after, we were invited to be part of Team Cimino for the Cast Iron CookOff competition to be held Saturday January 21 at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs. (More on the Greenbrier after the event.)  The competition, now in its 6th year, is a fundraiser for the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia which promotes culinary and cultural tourism and of developing a world recognition for a regional New Appalachian Cuisine. (More about this later also.)

So, the premise of the competition is to take foods typically found in the Appalachian region and present them in a new way, using cast iron as the only cooking material.  

Cafe Cimino’s Chef Tim Urbanik reminded us that the new Appalachian cuisine should not be McDonalds.  He believes that the diversification of foods available in the mountainous region can be explained by the influx of new emigrants: people like me who grew up and have lived in other parts of the country as well as a new international element that has been attracted to the educational, medical and other commercial endeavors here as well as the low cost of living.  His loyalty to using local foods has grown out of a love for robust flavors, high quality nutrition and reduced energy consumption including long-distance transportation. He proudly introduced the menu to the Team Cimino members, identifying local sources for all but one element. He explained an “exotic” ingredient like grapes would be present in the historic Appalachian home as a holiday treat.

There will be 4 courses: appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. Each course must be presented on 4 plates: 3 for the judges and 1 for the People’s Choice vote. The judges get to taste but the people only get to look, so that presentation can call on some props as well.

I am hesitant to share the menu at this time. Chef Tim will submit it to the Collaborative now but I don’t want to open this up to any competitor. I suspect by now they also have their menu and I am not so egotistical to think that one of them reads this Custom Trip Planning blog, but you never know, especially in a small state like West Virginia,  you never know……

So instead, I will tell you about the process.  And when I tell you he started us off by pouring us wine, that will set the tone….we had fun! And the wine really never stopped flowing!

After a discussion of the menu we started to work in the kitchen. The team is a mixture of Chef Tim and Chef Eli, several members who have been chefs of their own restaurants, excellent cooks like Graham and people like me, who love to cook but don’t have fancy knife skills.  We somehow naturally sorted to our areas of interests and expertise.  For example, I helped make the dessert.

And we got to taste. No complaints there at all!!

Actually, the most difficult part of the process was the presentation.  Chef Tim and Chef Eli prepared the plates, and Melody Urbanik and team members made other suggestions. After all was said and done we had 6 different plates for the entree presentation.  The issue was trying to present something that the attendees would find appealing (thinking of that People’s Choice vote) but the judges would find “new”.

As for teamwork, I think we found our niche comfortably.                                                    After the session in the kitchen we adjourned to one of the dining rooms and discussed the actual this and that….equipment, clothes to wear, who does what for the official report and more. And, believe it or not, we ate more! A salad, some excellent pasta with bolognese sauce, and a wonderful Italian fruit cake. And more wine. At Cafe Cimino, who can refuse?

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4 Responses to Inside Scoop: Behind the Scenes of a Culinary Cook-Off Competition

  1. It was 100% yummy. The recipes were all very accessible and didn’t take long to prepare. We will have a half hour to prepare things–like chop the nuts for the ice cream and the salad, and then we will have an hour to cook and plate. We did everything at this practice in about an hour so we have the time factor under control for the competition.

  2. Barb Tuson says:

    This sounds like it was lots of fun!!!

  3. This was our rehearsal…the competition will be Saturday, January 21 and I will write a blog about it with lots of photos. It has been a lot of fun so far and we expect this weekend to have a blast!

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