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

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!

After an expansive buffet of hearty breakfast options, fruit and pastries (yum!) and a “Make Your Own Bloody Mary” bar (ingenious!) I enjoyed two great demonstrations at the West Virginia Culinary Classic at Stonewall Resort.

Problem was, there were four sessions to choose from and I wanted to sit in on all!

I opted to bypass “Cooking with Fresh Ingredients,” which I already buy into, and “Sous Vide Home-Style Cooking,” pressurized cooking with liquids, which sounded fascinating. But I had two other callings …

“Braising Meats” and “Wine Sensory Tasting.”

Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on both topics, I still thought they were among the best all-around sessions I’ve seen on either subject in years. Both gave basic 101 tips for beginners (and good reminders for more experienced cooks) but also dove into more interesting tips, methods, insight and more.

Be sure to check out my column in Wednesday’s Charleston Daily Mail or on for the great tips I picked up from both sections – and for a complete roundup of another awesome Culinary Classic!

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 plate their creations for guests at Stonewall Resort's West Virginia Culinary Classic. (Photo by Rebecca Devono)

Just when we thought we could eat no more, it was time to sit down to a feast.

The 8th annual West Virginia Culinary Classic wrapped up Saturday evening at Stonewall Resort with a wine-and-cheese reception and live music in the lobby, followed by a gourmet four-course tasting menu in the ballroom.

Guests gussied up in their Sunday best to enjoy:

  • A really nice caramelized scallop with cider-poached quail egg and langostine-crab tamale with a quince gastrique
  • Duck confit salad with chefs greens, toasted walnuts, baby beets and cracklings tossed in a coriander-citrus vinaigrette
  • Roasted lamb loin wrapped in herb pastry with ranchero demi glacé, a meritage of forrest mushrooms, grilled asparagus and mescal bernaise
  • And a TO-DIE-FOR chocolate and Chambord mousse cake with melba sauce and macerated berries, a hazelnut tuile, minted whipped cream and a chocolate cigarette

Everything was good, but Executive Chef Paco Aceves and his crew definitely saved the best for last. People at nearby tables were still talking about that dessert the next morning at breakfast.

If you’ve never been to the Culinary Classic, you have no idea what you’re missing. Next year’s event is set for March 9-12, 2012 – and those who register before March 31, 2011, can lock in this year’s rate of $449, a $50 savings over next year’s cost. Visit for more details.