The Food Guy, Steven Keith Eating his way through the state, plate by plate

Fetch Some Good Chili at Wagging Tails Cook-Off

Come out and join me for a doggone good time (sorry, had to) as I help judge this Saturday’s Wagging Tails Chili Challenge” at Olde Main Plaza in St. Albans.

A benefit  for Dog Bless, a dog rescue group in the Kanawha Valley, the event is classified as a “homestyle” cook-off, meaning anything goes in terms of ingredients. Cooks can whip up a pot of red, white, green or vegetarian chili – loaded with beans or nary a one – for a chance to win the top prize of $300, a trophy and the opportunity to represent St. Albans in the 2016 ICS World Championship Homestyle Chili Cook-off.

Wagging Tails logoThe event, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, is sanctioned by the International Chili Society (ICS) and co-sponsored by St. Albans Riverfest in cooperation with the City of St. Albans. Chili sampling tickets are 50 cents each, and guests also can enjoy music, beer, retail booths and children’s activities.

The event takes place rain or shine.

And if you’re ready to steak (sorry, again, couldn’t resist) your claim on chili bragging rights, it’s not too late to enter. Organizers will accept contestants up until Friday who email

Dog Bless, a local 501(c)3 charitable organization.  Since its start in 2012, the group has saved more than 2,000 dogs from euthanasia and homelessness through the efforts of its volunteers, foster homes, rescue partners and community support. Dog Bless volunteers will be at the cook-off to share information about the group’s rescue efforts and how people can get involved. Learn more about the group and cook-off at

Chef Brown … You’ve Been Chopped!

If you read my column in today’s Daily Mail, you know I spent last night enjoying a fantastic night of wine, food, music and friends at Edgewood Country Club.

It was everything I expected in a nice evening out and more – and yet another feather in Festivall’s cap.

But what you don’t know is who won Charleston’s first-ever Edgewood Become a Work of Art “Chopped”-style culinary throwdown, in which two amateur chefs (and their teams) competed against one another to prepare two different dishes for four judges using a “mystery box” of ingredients revealed just 15 minutes before the stoves were fired up.

So who won? Oh, we’ll get to that.

First things first. What an AWESOME evening!

Held on Edgewood Country Club’s patio overlooking the city of Charleston, more than a hundred guests mingled – listening to the awesome “Fort Hillbillies” band, socializing with friends, sipping wine – while two culinary teams battled it out over a hot grill. Local “Wine Boy” John Brown and Charleston doctor Stefan Maxwell led their teams to create a menu featuring at least three ingredients from the mystery box (actually a coffin-sized cooler) presented to them right as the competition began.

Among their choices … sea bass, ahi tuna, ribeye and a selection of fresh produce, herbs, grains and full use of Chef Jeremy Still’s Edgewood Country Club pantry.

I immediately started plotting what I would make under the circumstances, but my ideas differed from what these fast-thinkers came up with on the fly. Chef Maxwell crafted a menu of a fire-grilled Caribbean Angus rib-eye roast with a rum-infused jerk reduction over warm potato salad. He paired that with a cored curried apple stuffed with goat cheese, figs and warm berry compote.

I loved the interplay of heat and sweat in his dish, but my steak was definitely overcooked compared to the plates I saw fellow judges enjoying on the left and right. Ah, consistency. But that sweet-savory-fruity apple dessert was one of the most ingenious, delicious I’ve had.

Chef Brown’s team offered a summer salad medley – a single plate featuring small tastes of crab Louis, grilled asparagus and a Caprese salad of sliced tomatoes, Buffalo mozzarella and julienned basil. Those are three dishes I love individually, but never would’ve thought to pair them together on the same plate. But why not?

The Brown team’s main course featured a Southwest-seared rib-eye, grilled broccolini and a farrow-stuffed grilled pepper. I dream of broccolini and farrow, so this was a winner in my book. The steak was cooked nicely, too, so there was little to find fault with here.

But that’s what judges do, so we filled out our scorecards to name an ultimate winner. And in the spirit of the show that inspired it … “Chef Brown, you’ve been Chopped!”

Chef Maxwell’s Caribbean-inspired menu won by the narrowest of margins, just 1.3 points out of a possible 60. So very close.

No matter, it was an awesome night – and yet another reason why West Virginia, Charleston and Festivall will forever hold a special place in my heart. (And belly.)

Pork Battle! A New Chef Wins Celebrity Throwdown

This year’s Celebrity Chef Throwdown at the West Virginia Culinary Classic presented two interesting twists.

One, last year’s same chefs competed in a heated (not really) rematch between returning winner Chef Gene Evans for Northern Community College and challenger Chef Tom Grant from Carver Career and Technical Center.

And, two, the competition threw in a reality show-like whammy this year!

Just five minutes before both teams started cooking, each chef got to select an ingredient (in addition to the mystery ingredient) that the opposing chef HAD to incorporate into one of their dishes.

Chef Gene took it easy on Chef Tom, choosing flatbread that was sautéed in olive oil to serve in an Italian-Mediterranean-style dish of pesto gnocchi with red peppers, toasted flatbread and fried basil leaves. Tom did not return the nicety, giving Gene Corn Chex that had to be incorporated into a dish.

Undeterred, Gene presented a pork roulade stuffed with a goat cheese and Corn Chex stuffing that looks pretty darn tasty.

It wasn’t enough, though. In a heated (not really) battle, Chef Tom dethroned Chef Gene’s team by capping off his three-dish presentation with an Oreo crème brulee made on-the-spot without the benefit of an oven.

While all of this was going on, there were NO winners at a new “Man vs. Food” event in which four strapping guys were challenged to try to finish a two-pound pulled pork sandwich (complemented with a pound of slaw and fries) in just an hour’s time.

I thought someone would do it, that is, until I saw these sandwiches, which were BEASTS. Not a single guy met the challenge, but God bless ‘em for trying. I’m sure they still haven’t recovered!

Chefs Meet Charity Challenge, And Then Some!

So I had a capital B-last at tonight’s second-annual Covenant House Chef’s Challenge Dinner (, an elegant fund-raiser at the Clay Center in which five local chefs each created a gourmet dish for several hundred guests consisting of ingredients found in a typical food pantry.

It was a great evening of friends, fellowship and do-gooding – or would it be good-doing?

Either way, let’s get to the food!

There were five chefs, five creative dishes – and not a bad one in the bunch …

  • Chef Joe Zando of Catering Unlimited started things off with a really nice Creamy White Bean & Sausage Soup. The sausage of choice (chorizo) gave the soup a slightly spicy bite, and I loved the rustic texture featuring pureed white beans along with whole beans for “oomph.”

The next three dishes, served together family-style, included …

  •  Edgewood Country Club Chef Jeremy Still’s Caribbean Spiced Tuna Cakes, which took me back to one of my all-time favorite childhood dinners – my mom’s awesome tuna croquettes. Only difference here is these were drizzled with a zippy crème.
  • Embassy Suites Chef Mark Schnurrpusch added a nice broth-boosted quinoa that was very couscous-y.
  • And Thomas Memorial Hospital Chef Mark Sabal prepared awesome Fresh Southern Green Beans, perfectly cooked to al dente then tossed with sautéed onions, bacon, red peppers and chicken stock. Delicious.

And then, the hit of the night … 

  • “Semi-retired” former Bluegrass Kitchen Chef Gary Needham finished things up in grand style with a show-stopping Low Country Sweet Potato-Pecan Pie with Bluegrass Whipped Cream. Loved the sweet potato influence, which made the dessert rich and fulfilling, but toned back in the sugar department, and – OH! – that cream!! Everyone at the table kept saying, how does he do that? Well, I know. Instead of traditional whipped cream, he whisks up a thick, rich, decadent heavy cream-mascarpone-cream cheese that looks like a big scoop of ice cream plopped on top. 

Although all dishes turned out great, that result wasn’t guaranteed going in. So why do these chefs subject themselves to such a challenge? Chef Zando explained it this way:

Any chef can take great ingredients and turn them into a great dish. But there’s something special about taking “peasant food” and turning it into something great. 

And as for the Covenant House charity forum … 

“There are so many food challenges these days, but we chose this one,” Zando explained. “The call to serve is a powerful one.”

Greenbrier Chef Wins National Culinary Contest

How’s this for a happy ending?

Those who followed last week’s blog item ( on Greenbrier chef Richard Rosendale competing for a chance to represent the U.S. in the “world olympics” of cooking will be thrilled to hear he did exactly that.

The 36-year-old has beat out three other American finalists for the chance to represent our country at the International Bocuse D’Or competition in Lyon, France, on Jan. 23, 2013.

Rosendale chopped his competion Sunday at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., during a marathon five-plus hour challenge in which he had to prepare two protein platters (one chicken, one cod) accompanied by three fancy garnishes.

Executive chef at The Greenbrier since the fall of 2009, Rosendale has more more than 45 national and international culinary medals and is one of fewer than 100 Master Certified Chefs in the country. He’ll now spend the next year in an intenstive yearlong training program leading up to the international contest.

New York magazine just published “50 State Dinners: Food Treks Worth Taking This Summer” featuring some of the best trip-worthy culinary road trips across the country. West Virginia is represented, of course, by Marlinton’s Road-Kill Cook-Off at the Pocahontas County Autumn Harvest Festival.

Here is a piece of what we had to say about the event:

“The truly brave can head to this annual festival’s main cook-off event, where a dozen amateur cooks compete for $1,000. Past entries have included delicacies like Bambi’s Best Chili, armadillo tacos, squirrel gravy over biscuits and frog jambalaya. Yum!”

You can read more, if you dare, at …×00024.