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.