CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I had the pleasure Monday evening to sit down with a crack culinary team of mostly media people who selected a winner in Charleston Chopped, a Food Network-inspired event sponsored by the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Five Charleston area chefs were challenged to create an award-winning dish incorporating three ingredients: chicken, sweet potatoes and ramps.
Chef John Wright and his Bridge Road Bistro team took top honors with Apricot Barbecue Pulled Chicken alongside a creamy Sweet Potato and Ramp Flan topped with crispy kale.
Coach and Maggie, Electric 102.7 morning show hosts, sat beside me and Coach's comment on how well the flavors in Wright's dish worked together was dead-on. The slightly sweet and savory flan complemented the tangy barbecue subtly and well.
I'd somehow managed to not have eaten crispy kale before and found Wright's version to be delicious. Maggie recommended it, saying that she often enjoys the dish.
Notoriously hungry media people tend to be appreciative of any free food, but the Electric 102.7 team and Nikki Bowman of WV Living, who sat on the other side of me, seemed to have discriminating palates.
The other competitors were Paterno's at the Park, headed by Michael Aiello, Deno Stanley of Adelphia Sports Bar and Grille, Evan Wilson of Ichiban and Wayne Poythress of Charleston Brewing Company.
Each of the chefs used the three ingredients in creative dishes that differed wildly from each other's entries, making it a bit difficult for the judges to compare them. No apples to apples here.
Aiello, who recently was named Paterno's executive chef at just 22 years of age, went with a Jamaican theme that contrasted with mostly Italian fare on his restaurant's menu. He made a flavorful Jerk Chicken Thigh with a Ramp Marinade and paired it with a smooth sweet potato and plantain mash.
Stanley offered a twist on Adelphia's signature fried feta appetizer. He wrapped thin strips of seasoned chicken breast around chunks of feta, and then breaded and fried the pairing. He served it on sweet potato waffle fries and sprinkled scallions on top because he couldn't find ramps. He topped it with Yia Yia's (Greek for grandmother) special dressing, also an Adelphia favorite.
I never would have guessed Poythress's Ramp Pasta with Poached Chicken Meatballs and Roasted Potato Slices were a last-minute inspiration, but Poythress said he only found out he was participating on the day of the competition.
"It was my day off and I was at Lowe's shopping when my general manager called to ask if I wanted to do this," Poythress said.
He hustled into the brewery and restaurant's kitchen and whipped up house-made pasta into which he also mixed a hint of basil to temper the intensely pungent ramps, He seasoned the poached meatballs with thyme and garlic and roasted sweet potatoes to slice on top.
Ichiban's Wilson strayed from his sushi comfort zone to make galentines, a classic French presentation of deboned and rolled meat that is poached and served cold in slices. Wilson rolled chicken thighs, prosciutto, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and onions into a log, then served in slices with a ramp infused olive oil and sweet potato hash browns.
"It's reminiscent of futomaki," said Wilson, speaking of the long, thick rolls of sushi. "I knew it would be a challenge to use those ingredients. I decided that if I was going to do it, I was going to step outside of the box. I'm always up for something wild and crazy."
Occurring the day after Mother's Day, Charleston Chopped's timing challenged the chefs whose establishments were slammed on the popular dining out day. Wright said he hadn't had time to think much about his dish before the morning of the event, but still created the winning entry.
Wright shared his flan recipe, which is printed below.
The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored Charleston Chopped, as well as the Tourism People's Choice Awards as noted in today's Food Notes, in celebration of National Tourism Week.
Reach Julie Robinson at email@example.com or 304-348-1230.
Sweet Potato and Ramp Flan
Bridge Road Bistro's award winning dish in Charleston Chopped
- 13 egg yolks
- 1large egg
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 ramps with leaves, finely chopped
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 quart half and half
- 2 cups mashed sweet potato
SIMMER half and half.
MIX egg yolks, egg, sugar, ramps and cayenne pepper in a stainless steel bowl. Slowly add half and half to egg mixture. Add sweet potatoes to mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour into an 8- to 9-inch round baking dish.
BAKE in a water bath at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.