CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two Charleston chefs and their teams were big winners at The Greenbrier's Cast Iron Cook-Off this past weekend. The Cast Iron Cook-Off aims to create a "New Appalachian Cuisine" that builds on the region's cultural roots in terms of recipes, folklore, utensils and ingredients but that also takes into account recent findings about nutritious eating and healthy lifestyles.
The overall grand champion was Charleston's own Noah's Eclectic Bistro and chef Noah Miller, while Paterno's at the Park and its chef, Michael Aiello, won for Best Menu for 21st Century Interpretation of a Traditional Appalachian Cuisine.
"The purpose of this is to grow culinary tourism in the state," said Allen Arnold, director of the Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia, which sponsored the cook-off. "Our very best chefs are so talented that in this kind of structured competition they have the opportunity to learn a great deal from each other and become highly attuned to national culinary trends.
"This is a hard contest because normally a chef is given a mystery box and has to create a concoction with it. What we do is, they have a team of eight people who they have to manage -- not only do they have to create this highly original menu that uses local ingredients and reinterprets the traditional recipe, they have to be sufficiently skilled at leading a team that they can get other people to produce it for them."
At least one component of each course of a four-course meal must have been cooked in cast iron, and teams were given 1 hour, 15 minutes to whip up their dishes.
"This is haute cuisine. This is very high level gourmet food," Arnold said. "We're trying to communicate that West Virginia can match fine dining and fine restaurants in real metropolitan areas. And that people who are persnickety about their food can come to West Virginia and have every bit as wonderful an experience as they have in a large city."
Miller's team was named grand champion with the following menu:
First course: Wilted Baby Kale (sunny-side-up quail egg, crispy pancetta, shallot, radish, white balsamic gastrique)
Second course: Mountain Momma Cakes (cornmeal pancakes, creamed corn, tomato jam, honey drizzle, goat cheese)
Third course: Appalachian Paella (venison loin, wild boar sausage, rainbow trout, crawfish, morel-dusted "dirty rice," blackberry jus)
Dessert: Stone Fruit Cobbler (plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries, Ellen's vanilla ice cream)
"It was a great experience being at The Greenbrier," Miller said. "I was more so supposed to be the chef and to delegate tasks out and not so much to physically do a lot. Other than seasoning and telling people what to do, I think we did pretty well at that.
"I kept my menu really simple. We got there. We didn't have heat lamps. I saw these other teams that had all these heat lamps set up and all these fancy burners and equipment. We didn't bring a whole lot. I brought the bare minimum of what I needed. Basically, I kind of liked to pretend I was just cooking outdoors on a campfire, if you will.
"Everything else was just simple tools, simple things. I think the menu was simple enough, tasty enough -- that's what they're looking for. Again, the cast iron, the Appalachian part of it, was really all I focused on the entire time. I just tried to be as creative with Appalachian ingredients and as creative with cast iron as I possibly could. I think we executed pretty well."