What happens when three of Monmouth County’s most talented chefs partner up with two culinary students in a competition reminiscent of Food Network’s Chopped? Turns out that’s a recipe for an epic night of farm-to-table food competition, Monmouth County style.
Held at the Brookdale Culinary Education Center in the Asbury Park High School on a beautiful fall evening, the first annual Grown in Monmouth Culinary Competition pitted three teams of Brookdale’s Culinary Education Center (CEC) alumni, CEC students, and Monmouth County Vocation School District (MCVSD) students against one another in a cross-county showdown. The three teams were led by CEC alumni Chefs Sharon Kircher of Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park, Oleg Scorpan of Yvonne’s in Neptune, and Wendy Escobedo of Kula Café in Asbury Park.
The teams had one hour to impress the judges, the roster of which included Andrew Araneo of Drew’s Bayshore Bistro in Keyport; Emily Chapman, executive chef of Pasquale Jones in NYC, and Erik Witherspool, executive chef for gourmet dining services at Monmouth University and culinary operations manager of Monmouth Racetrack. Contestants started with three mystery baskets full of food, wine, and beer, all made (or grown) in Monmouth County: one each for an appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
From littleneck clams from Belford Seafood Coop for the appetizer round, to pork chops from Renee Stillwell, and apples from Eastmont Orchards, the baskets were packed with locally sourced ingredients that would have any chef ready to take it on. The teams also had access to a pantry filled with additional donated items from around Monmouth County. (Check out the full list of basket items below).
“We were absolutely delighted that farmers so generously donated all the food for the competition,” said Sharon Folta of Monmouth County Economic Development. “It was unbelievable cool because most farmers are very small, but the excitement was palpable.”
Team C, which consisted of Kircher, CEC student Sean Kim, and MCVSD student Chelsea Mendes, took home top honors with unique dishes that highlighted the harvest perfectly. Judges feasted on their entrée dish of maple infused grilled pork chop with a pesto goat cheese served over a fall farmer’s hash and then was equally wowed with their rustic sweet crepe filled with apple blackberry compote and a walnut crème fraiche.
“The collaboration between the CEC and the Grown in Monmouth Initiative was great for students, but also for our culinary staff,” said Jamie Soto, culinary instructor and structured learning coordinator at CEC. “It was about the community coming together.”
The evening was one of Monmouth County’s first ventures into advertising the “Made in Monmouth” logo, which was developed with the help of the Monmouth County Office of Economic Development and Spinelli and Pinto Consulting. After surveying farms, consumers, and landowners, the group examined what the agricultural sector would need to enhance their businesses regionally.
As part of the Grown In Monmouth initiative, the Monmouth County Office of Economic Development has also created a website to connect the buyer directly with local farmers. Consumers can now search the growing database of local farmers, browsing by farmers market, farm name, or municipality.
“We went out and spoke with farmers,” said Folta. “They all said we need this (the Grown in Monmouth initiative) so that we can make a difference and improve our businesses.”
For more information visit the Grown In Monmouth website
Littleneck clams, Belford Seafood Coop
Pumpkin beer, Screaming Eagle Beer
Sausage, Renee Stillwell in Cream Ridge
Hot peppers, Shirley Pinhas in Millstone
Lemon basil, Beyond Organics in Howell
Pork chops, Renee Stillwell
White wine, 4JG’s Winery
Hazelnuts, Upper Freehold
Winter squash, Laurino Farms
Garlic scapes, Shirley Pinhas
Apples from Eastmont Orchards, Colts Neck
Honey, Trappers Honey
Blackberry juice, Bruins Farm
Plum wine, Cream Ridge Winery
Micro fennel, Beyond Organics