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Utah culinary talents shine in national and local competitions

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Utah's culinary talents have gotten some national exposure the past week. Last week, Janell Brown of One Sweet Slice in South Jordan won $10,000 in the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars." Then a few days later, Viet Pham, chef of Forage in downtown Salt Lake City, was edged out in the final show-down on the Food Network's "Extreme Chef." And on Sept. 14, an episode of the Cooking Channel's "Eden Eats" featured ethnic eateries of Salt Lake City, such as Little Taste of Britain, Frida Bistro, Curry in a Hurry and Café Shabala.

While all this excitement was on TV, I was out judging one of the best-tasting food competitions I can remember — the Iron Pig Championship Cook-Off at Daybreak. Iron Pig cooking club founders Tom and Teresa Akagi organized contests throughout the year, where club members cooked and then judged each others' dishes. The winners of those contests competed in this final cook-off, held during Daybreak's FizzFest.

These cooks could be the "farm team" for another Food Network cooking show. Every entry was top-notch, making it extremely hard for judges (Matt Gephardt of KUTV-2 and me) to choose the winner.

The theme was "gourmet street food," which opened the door to a lot of creativity. The aroma of sizzling peppers and onions, steaks and seafood lured in a large audience.

Winner Laraine Hunt of Layton and her assistant, Sarah Clark, went with a tropical theme: a "shrimp boat" served in a baby South African pineapple, a crostini with a mixture of ricotta and jalapeno preserves that was topped with edible flowers. Her entrée was a sandwich of Pacific-rim glazed tenderloin steak, tender spicy corn on the cob, and chickpea-and-poppy-seed-fried zucchini sticks. Dessert was a honey-grilled banana split with chocolate raspberries.

Here are some of the other great dishes served. They might help jump-start your own creativity in the kitchen:

James Packard served three different types of seafood tacos (mahi-mahi, lobster and shrimp); crepes filled with savory things like goat cheese and spinach; Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich); and a "farmer's market" grilled orange with fresh-picked raspberries.

David Hong had an Asian theme going with satay chicken and a nice peanut dipping sauce, Singapore noodles with plump shrimp, and deep-fried sesame balls that were nicely crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and filled with bean paste.

Sarah Molloy had a Columbian fruit salad with a homemade ice cream base; fried plantains; and Venezuelan Arepas, or corn cakes with savory pork and chicken fillings and a luxurious green dipping sauce of avocado, parsley and cilantro. The watermelon "agua fresca" drink was cool and refreshing.

Hailey Fawson did thick-cut French fries dusted with shredded parmesan, nicely spiced shrimp tacos; and skewers of strawberries and churros stuffed with thick, sweet dulce de leche.

Tony Castillo did "Steak Three Ways:" a Philly cheesesteak with a smoked cheese topping, a carne asada taco, and teriyaki steak. In all three ways, the steak was tender and perfectly seasoned.

Here are two of Laraine Hunt's winning recipes:


Pacific Rim Tenderloin Steak Sandwich

2 tenderloin steaks

1 cup bottled teriyaki marinade

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

1 large clove garlic, finely diced

½ cup diced onion

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

½ cup honey

Mix marinade well. Pour over steaks and set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Grill over medium heat until meat thermometer reaches 140 degrees.

Take off heat and wrap in foil, and let rest for approximately 10 minutes prior to slicing for sandwiches.

Cheesy Bread

1 French baguette, halved lengthwise and cut into 4 inch pieces

Olive oil (about 1-2 tablespoons)

Grated Monterey Jack cheese

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

Brush bread with olive oil and cut side on grill. Flip over and add grated Monterey Jack cheese, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Remove from grill to platter, tope with sliced tenderloin. Garnish with orange slices, fresh rosemary sprig, top meat with a few chopped scallions.

— Laraine Hunt, Iron Pig Cook-Off Champion


Pineapple Shrimp Boat with Fruit Salsa

2 pounds cleaned and deveined raw shrimp

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon minced lemongrass

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 cups diced red bell pepper

2 cups diced onion

1 teaspoons minced jalapeno

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced ginger

Mix together all ingredients and chill 30 minutes. Meanwhile, take a fresh pineapple, cut in half and remove core and discard. Make the fresh fruit salsa using the rest of the pineapple meat. (Salsa recipe to follow).

After marinating shrimp for 30 minutes, in a large saucepan, over high heat cook shrimp mixture. Sauté until shrimp turn pink and glaze thickens. Transfer to pineapple halves and top with fruit salsa

Fruit Salsa

Pineapple meat from 1 pineapple, diced

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves

1 tablespoon seeded and finely chopped fresh serrano pepper

1 tablespoon minced ginger

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 pinch red pepper flakes

Combine well and serve over shrimp boat.

— Laraine Hunt, Iron Pig Cook-Off Champion

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.

Email: vphillips@desnews.com