Shirey Wins Final Iron Chef Event

By on March 7, 2018
Dave Shirley of Piper Belle’s BBQ took home the first place prize at this year’s Iron Chef competition. Photos by Laura Knowles

Dave Shirey of Piper Belle’s BBQ took home the first place prize at this year’s Iron Chef competition. Photos by Laura Knowles

The 12th Iron Chef Cocalico competition was held on Sunday, March 4, and would be the last year for the tasty celebration of food.

Event organizer Liz Ackerman announced that the 2018 Iron Chef Cocalico and Benefit Auction would not be held again next year. She did promise an all-new and even better fundraiser for the Cocalico Education Foundation in 2019, but did not divulge exactly what it would be.

It was the final opportunity for chef Courtney Rittenour of Courtyard Café on Main in Denver to reclaim her crown for the third time in the Iron Chef Cocalico competition, but chef Dave Shirey of Piper Belle’s BBQ was not about to let that happen. Shirey grabbed the top prize, winning Iron Chef Cocalico for the first time.

The competition was very close, with just one point separating the first and second place winners. Third place winner chef Louis Chabot, Jr. of Bent Creek Country Club was close behind.

It was easy to see why the contest was so close. The three chefs were asked to use Branzino fish, also known as European bass, for the main ingredient in their award-winning dish. In keeping with the Mediterranean-inspired ingredients that were required for their dishes, the chefs each created totally different presentations. Those required ingredients included the Branzino fish, eggplant, lemons, olives, red peppers and feta.

The fish is known for its delectable richness and flakiness. It requires special handling to not fall apart. With that in mind, each chef chose a different preparation. Shirey sautéed the fish and then formed it into fish cakes with savory citrus sauce that used eggplant and peppers for flavor.

Courtney Rittenour of Courtyard Cafe on Main came in second place.

Courtney Rittenour of Courtyard Cafe on Main came in second place.

Rittenour decided to cook the fish whole, after filleting it and stuffing it with citrus and vegetables. As she pointed out, cooking it whole is more in keeping with Mediterranean tradition, allowing the Branzino to develop a richer flavor. She then used a salsa-like blend of sweet citrus, eggplant, olives, saffron and other ingredients.

Chef Louis Chabot Jr. was a close third place.

Chef Louis Chabot Jr. was a close third place.

Chabot carefully filleted the fish and sautéed them in olive oil, serving them with a flavorful and aromatic ratatouille mixture of citrus, mango, tarragon, fresh chives and honey.

Since presentation was worth 10 points in the competition, the chefs did not disappoint. Each dish was sumptuously plated with gorgeous colors of orange, yellow, green and red. It was hard to decide which was the fairest of them all.

The judges had to make that difficult decision. They included Mitch Aument of Kunzler Meats and Sam Diblasi, former owner of Diblasi’s in Denver. The guest judges won the honor of tasting the dishes by entering an auction to be a guest judge. They were Brenda Lausch and Timothy Howell.

All three chefs were masterful in their fast-paced organization and creativity. They had a vast array of fresh produce to use, which was later auctioned off to winning bidders who filled grocery bags with fruits and vegetables.

The Iron Chef Cocalico also featured a People’s Choice contest with local restaurants and dining spots vying for top pick. In keeping with the Cruise through the Mediterranean theme, the chefs made dishes from Italy, France and Spain.

George Lewis of Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital took top prize for his chicken parmesan pizza, with Village Haus restaurant taking second place for their quiche and Aundraya Baxter of the soon-to-be-opened Brancyn’s restaurant, placing third for her gazpacho. Brancyn’s will be located in the former Black Horse restaurant near Adamstown. Baxter, by the way, filled in for the Village Haus with the quiche.

Ackerman noted that even this year’s Iron Chef Cocalico almost didn’t happen. It took some quick thinking and dedication from committee members who arranged partnerships with Weis Markets in Ephrata, Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital and Blue Ridge Communications.

“We owe special thanks to Angie Marley and Chris Dunn,” said Ackerman, honoring the two Cocalico School District volunteers who helped to make it happen. Marley is principal at Denver Elementary School and Dunn is a food services director for the district.

The tasty culinary event was held at Cocalico High School from 1-5 p.m., incorporating food, entertainment and an auction to raise funds for educational opportunities for students in the Cocalico School District. The Cocalico Education Foundation funds classroom projects, books for early childhood education, technology initiatives and scholarships for graduating seniors.

Chef Tom Gillin, host of Blue Ridge 11’s Cooking for Class and chef Scott Snyder from Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital served as emcees for the competition, offering their wit and wisdom on food ingredients and food preparation. Disc Jockey Casey Allyn of I105 WIOV co-hosted the event with Voice of the Lancaster Barnstormers John Witwer.

New for this year, all guests were treated to a themed meal, sponsored by Weis Markets in Ephrata. Additional food purveyors provided snacks for the event. There was also a live cooking demonstration sponsored by Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital.

Auction items ranged from a KitchenAid mixer to New York style cheesecake, along with meals from the winning chefs. Brad Wolf was the auctioneer for the Live Benefit Auction showcasing fine art, handmade jewelry, pottery and other valuable items produced by local artists. A variety of items, including jewelry and ceramics produced by Cocalico High School students, were included in the Silent and Ticket Auctions.

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