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

Local Mac & Cheese Cook-off Now World Qualifier

As if Charleston’s second-annual Mac & Cheese Cook-off weren’t exciting enough, there’s an even bigger reason you won’t want to miss this year’s event …

Coordinator Rachel Scudiere recently learned the local cook-off has been selected to be a qualifier for the “World Food Championships” competition in Florida this November.

That’s big news, y’all!

As a result, Scudiere is extending the registration deadline for those who would like to participate until next Wednesday, March 18.

This year’s event takes place Saturday, March 28, at Charleston’s Capital Market. For more information, check out my previous story at or visit

Vandalia Gathering Hosting a Sweet Bake-off

Ready to get your cupcake on?

The folks putting on this weekend’s awesome annual Vandalia Gathering on the State Capitol Grounds in Charleston are inviting West Virginia residents to enter a “Cupcake & Pound Cake” bakeoff as part of this year’s event.

A celebration of Appalachian heritage featuring food, music, dance, crafts and more, the Vandalia Gathering draws big crowds of fans who love to enjoy everything “Wild and Wonderful” about our great state. This year’s baking competition will take place inside the Culture Center State Theater this Saturday, May 24. Registration is from noon to 1:30 pm and tasting/judging begins at 2 pm, with winners announced shortly thereafter.

Entries must be original recipes made from scratch, with no prepared mixes allowed. Judges will disqualify previ­ously published recipes, such as those in cookbooks and in magazines, from food companies, on food websites and cooking-contest winners, unless the recipe features changes considered significant by the judges. Entries must be submitted in disposable pans/liners, with no refrigeration required. The recipe used also must be included on a 3×5” index card.

Creativity is essential and this contest is not limited to traditional cupcake and pound cake flavors. Judges will look for a variety of fillings and textures.

Entries may score a possible 100 points, with 30 for taste/flavor, 25 appearance, 15 consistency in size/shape, 20 moistness/crumb and 10 for creativity. First place wins $75, second gets $50 and $25 will go to both the third-place winner and the top entry among youth ages 15 and under.

All cupcakes and pound cakes become the property of the Division of Culture and History and will be offered as prizes during a cake walk in the Great Hall at 3:30 p.m. All are welcome to join the dancing!

Although I was asked to help pick this year’s winners, sadly, I’ll be out of town this weekend and can’t make it. #bummer

For complete rules or more information, contact the West Virginia Division of Culture and History at (304) 558-0220 or visit

Charleston “Restaurant Week” Menus Announced!

For those of you salivating over what choices you’ll have during Charleston’s upcoming “Restaurant Week,” I’m going to put you out of your misery. The menus have been announced! 

In case you missed the big news, Buzz Food Service has recruited eight top-notch local restaurants to participate in this year’s inaugural event, coming up Jan. 27-Feb. 1. 

Get the original scoop at, then check out the eight featured menus below …


BLUEGRASS KITCHEN (1600 Washington St. East, 304-346-2871)

First course:

* Simple salad or cup of soup du jour


* Pan-seared whole trout with organic stoneground grits, stewed kale and bourbon mustard sauce.

Dessert, choice of:

* Any available dessert.


BRIDGE ROAD BISTRO (915 Bridge Road, 304-720-3500)

First course, choice of:

* Cup of French Onion Soup

* House Salad

Entrée, choice of:

* Grecian Chicken Penne Pasta

* Apple Cured Pork Chop with fig and apple glaze with polenta and house vegetable

* Seared Salmon with polenta and house vegetable

Dessert, choice of:

* Bread Pudding

* Ice Cream


ICHIBAN (103 Capitol St., 304-720-7874)

First course, choice of:

* Gyoza (steamed pork dumpling)

* Almost Heaven Maki (shrimp and blue crab with spicy mayo, garnished with green onions and chili powder)

Entrée, choice of:

* Ichiban Land & Sea (filet with scallops drizzled with Asian sauce served with asparagus and choice of steamed or fried rice)

* Bamboo Chicken sautéed in General Tso’s sauce with choice of steamed or fried rice.


* Decadent Chocolate Spoon Cake.


NOAH’S ECLECTRIC BISTRO (110 McFarland St., 304-343-6558)

First course, choice of:

* Grilled Romaine Salad: Lightly grilled romaine, peppercorn dressing, grape tomato and shaved parmesan

* Soup of the Day: Chef’s Daily Creation

Entrée, choice of:

* Moroccan Spiced Braised Lamb: Tender braised leg of lamb with chickpeas, apricots, golden raisins, cous cous and mint yogurt

* Shrimp or Chicken Pad Thai: Bean sprouts, julienne vegetables, fried egg, rice noodles, peanuts, cilantro, coconut-peanut sauce

Dessert, choice of:

* Chocolate Lava Cake

* Vanilla Ice Cream with fresh berries


PATERNO’S AT THE PARK (601 Morris St., 304-205-5482)

First course, choice of:

* House-made meatball over polenta cake

* Italian Sausage Stuffed Pepper

Entrée, choice of:

* basil chicken (pan seared bone-in chicken breast with a basil marsala cream), tomato risotto and seasonal vegetable

* veal cutlet picatta (pounded veal tenderloin with a lemon and caper butter sauce), parmesan risotto and seasonal vegetable


* Cannoli chips


SOHO’S CAPITOL MARKET (800 Smith St., 304-720-7646)

First course, choice of:

* Caprese Salad

* Minestrone

Entrée, choice of:

* Lasagna

* Four-cheese ravioli with tomato basil

Dessert, choice of:

* Tiramisu

* Cannoli


SOUTH HILLS MARKET AND CAFÉ (1010 Bridge Road, 304-345-2585)

First course, choice of:

* Spanakopita Dip with Smoked Tomato Relish and Pita

* Garden Greens with choice of Dressing

* Braised Pork Belly with Succotash and Caramel Soy

Entrée, choice of:

* Chicken and Waffles with Braised Greens and Pecan Gastrique

* Pan Seared Grouper with Braised Leeks and Fennel with Saffron Beurre Blanc

* Grilled Petite Filet with whipped Potatoes and Vegetable Melange with Bordelaise

Dessert, choice of:

* Petite Doughnuts with Chocolate Sauce

* Creme Brûlée with Berry compote


VANDALIA GRILLE (212 Hale St., 304-343-4110)

First course, choice of:

* Tuna Nachos

* Bruschetta

Entrée, choice of:

* Cedar Plank Salmon

* Vandalia Filet


* Fried Cheesecake

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.)

Enjoy a Gourmet Feast in a Gorgeous Farm Setting

If you love great locally sourced food, fine wine and good company – all enjoyed against a backdrop of sweeping views of West Virginia’s rolling farmland – have I got an event for you!

Tickets are still available for the June 10 “Friends of Food” gourmet farm feast at beautiful Swift Level Farm in Lewisburg. Join other diehard “foodies” (and me!) as we celebrate West Virginia’s culinary heritage and local farm products for an unforgettable evening at one of the most beautiful and idyllic settings in the state.

Some of our region’s finest chefs will team up to serve a “New Appalachian” feast paired with featured wines from the Wine Shop at Capitol Market.

Cocktails will start at 6:30 pm, with dinner served at 7:30 pm. Seating will be in tables of eight, and tickets are $100 per person.

You can order yours now – and take a look at the entire mouthwatering menu – here:

Pick Up Some Soup … and Keep the Beautiful Bowl

What’s better than buying a nice big bowl of homemade soup to enjoy on Super Bowl Sunday – or any cold winter’s day, for that matter?

Getting to keep the bowl, too.

And not just any bowl, but a beautiful ceramic one handcrafted by West Virginia artisans whose work is often on display at Tamarack.

This Saturday, just a day before the big game, Unity of Kanawha Valley will hold a “Souper Bowl Saturday” soup and bowl sale at the church, on the corner of Bridge and Myrtle roads in South Hills.

Homemade soups, breads and tasty baked goods will be sold, along with the opportunity to purchase ceramic soup bowls created by regional potters. The Tamarack Foundation worked with artists from St. Albans to Hinton to donate bowls for this weekend’s sale.

You can purchase just the soup or the soup in a decorative bowl. Potters will also have order forms on hand in case you’d like to purchase additional matching bowls or a complete set.

Get some soup to eat in, purchase a bowl to take out or stock up for the game.

Sounds souper!

The sale will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, with proceeds going to the church. For more information, call 304-345-0021.

Top Plates at the WV Culinary Classic Dine Around!

Last night’s opening night Dine Around at the West Virginia Culinary Classic was better than ever, with some of the region’s top chefs and culinary programs showing off their skills for hundreds of guests at Stonewall Resort.

The sights, sounds and smells combined into a sensory overload of sorts (but in a good way!) with sizzling pans, gorgeous plates of food, free-flowing wine and some great live Appalachian music touching on rock, country, bluegrass and more.

As I made my way around the room and addressed the crowd between tunes, I kept crowning a new “favorite” dish until I finally just gave up and enjoyed them all!

Among the highlights …

  • A fantastic homemade sausage and sautéed greens slider atop cornbread from the Regatta Grille at Morgantown’s Waterfront Place Hotel.
  • A soul-satisfying braised short rib ravioli in roasted red pepper pasta from Canaan Valley Resort. Their bloody mary with candied bacon was a hit, too. (They called it “breakfast in a glass.” I called it “a party in my mouth.”)
  • A mushroom tart topped with braised short ribs and truffle greens from Smokey’s on the Gorge in Fayetteville.
  • Tasty peppery pork tenderloin atop five-onion risotto from The Greenbrier.
  • A colorful and delicious lightly dressed salad of cabbage, peppers, carrots and herbs from Graceland Inn & Conference Center in Elkins.
  • Then there was the carpaccio with lemon-olive oil sorbet from Mountain State University, the crab cake bar from Columbus Culinary Institute, Stonewall’s sprawling antipasto spread, Huntington Prime’s gorgeous and decadent cakes and tortes – and the list goes on.

It was great night, and the food fun continues today!

First up this morning is a “Make Your Own Bloody Mary” bar in the Grand Lobby, followed by four concurrent sessions covering everything from wine tasting to a braising meats demonstration. The popular Celebrity Chef Throwdown (an Iron Chef-like affair) starts at 1 p.m., immediately followed by a new “Man vs. Food” challenge. Get this …

Four volunteers will go head-to-head to see if they can eat a 32 oz. pulled pork sandwich (that’s two pounds, folks!) plus fries and cole slaw in under 45 minutes. The winner gets a free pass to next year’s 10th annual Culinary Classic, valued at several hundred dollars.

And then tonight brings another cocktail reception followed by the grand finale – a five course food and wine dinner in the Grand Ballroom.

The fun begins in minutes, so off I go. But stay tuned for more updates!

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.”

Could You Cook Dinner for 200 from YOUR Pantry?

Love great food, a good party, the thrill of competition AND helping out a good cause?

Have I got a night for you!

At the Covenant House Chef’s Challenge Dinner at the Clay Center on March 7, six local chefs will be challenged to create a nutritious, delicious gourmet meal using only the items typically found in the Covenant House Food Pantry. And their meal needs to serve 200 guests.

Yep, that’s a challenge.

Chefs who have stepped up to tackle it are Nick McCormick of Berry Hills Country Club; Gary Needham, formerly of Bluegrass Kitchen; Mark Sabal of Thomas Memorial Hospital; Mark Schnurrpusch of Embassy Suites; Jeremy Still of Edgewood Country Club; and Joe Zando of Catering Unlimited.

Tickets for the night are $100 per person, with proceeds going to the Covenant House. For more information, call 304-344-8053 or visit

Bridge Road Bistro Unveiling New Dining Room

There’s more than great food and brew to look forward to at next Tuesday’s (Sept. 27) Bridge Road Bistro beer tasting dinner.

The popular South Hills restaurant will use the occasion to unveil its new Walnut Room dining area constructed as part of its expansion into the former Kid Country Toys space that abutted it on Walnut Road.

Can’t wait to check out the new space!

As for the dinner itself, the Bistro is teaming up with “America’s Oldest Brewery” to offer a four-course Yuengling Tasting Dinner. After a reception with canapes and lager, the evening’s menu will feature …

  • Baked Oysters with a Shrimp and Lord Chesterfield Hollandaise, paired with Lord Chesterfield Ale.
  • Baby Local Lettuces with Chicken Confit Pot Stickers and Honey Lager Vinaigrette.
  • Braised Black and Tan Swift Level Short Ribs with Sweet Corn and Baby Leek Risotto, paired with Yuengling’s Black and Tan.
  • Chocolate Ganache Tart with Pink Sea Salt and Porter Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, served with Yuengling Porter.

The reception kicks off at 6 p.m., with dinner beginning at 6:30 p.m. For reservations, costs and more information, call 304-720-3500.