It was a tough choice to make, to determine the best entry: a beautifully designed beer-cheese BLT soup by Jack Riebel of Butcher & the Boar, or a fragrant three-course meal of an heirloom tomato salad with charred-tomato vinaigrette, a trout and vegetable tagine, and a chilled melon soup for dessert from Sameh Wadi of Saffron. That was the decision the judges had to make Saturday during the Chef Challenge at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, an event held in multiple cities, sponsored by Country Financial and, here, the Minneapolis Farmers Market.
The chefs had 20 minutes to find their foods of choice at the market, and $50 to spend, followed with 30 minutes to prepare their dish. Jack and Sameh raced through the aisles of the very crowded market (or at least they tried to; it was tough to get customers to move out of the way), grabbing the tomatoes, cantaloupe, trout, bacon, bread and more to be used in the prep.
Jack, at right, relied on what he called "the three killer 'Bs' for his dish: beer, bacon and bread. Each chef was allowed to bring two ingredients to the event. Jack brought vinegar and beer; Sameh also turned to vinegar, as well as his own spice blend.
"This is more stressful than Iron Chef. It's Jack Riebel," said Sameh at the start of the competition. By 11 minutes from deadline, Jack noted, "Stress, stress, stress."
But neither seemed too stressed; they were calmly -- though hastily -- at work, focused on the end results.
I was one of the four judges, who included food blogger Stephanie Meyer and WCCO-TV weekend anchors Matt Brickman and Jamie Yuccas.
Take a look for yourself at the completed dishes. Jack cooked and plated a stunning soup in the very formal, elegant method of first presenting the soup ingredients without the broth, then at the table slowly pouring in the liquid. No matter how many times I've had soup presented this way, it makes me swoon. See the tomatoes, maple-glazed bacon and green onion? That's a slice of gouda atop the bacon and the mild beer-cheese broth also uses the cheese. It was a real stunner. Here's how the dish was initially served before the liquid was added, followed by a photo after the addition of the beer-cheese broth.
From Jack Riebel of Butcher & the Boar.
Pour into blender and blend until smooth. Add cheese and blend until smooth. Pass through strainer; set aside.
Sameh presented a three-course meal, starting with a salad of heirloom tomatoes with a charred-tomato vinaigrette. The fragrance was wonderful. The dressing was drizzled on the salad at the table. (Again, a swooning moment.)
Heirloom Tomato Salad With Tomato Vinaigrette
• 5 heirloom tomatoes, (3 sliced thinly, plus 2 whole for vinaigrette), divided
• 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 1/4 jalapeno (no seeds)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1/2 pint (2 cups) raspberries
• A few fresh basil leaves
To make vinaigrette: Char 2 tomatoes over flame until mostly black. Do not rinse off the charred bits. In a blender, combine tomatoes with vinegar, olive oil, jalapeno, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Pour over sliced tomatoes. Garnish with fresh basil leaves, raspberries, salt and pepper.
Second course from Sameh was a seafood tagine made with rainbow trout and vegetables (zucchini, patty-pan squash and corn in the mix), mixed with North African spices, a blend called ras el hanout. The dish was originally presented in a cobalt blue tagine, then dished up individually for the judges.
Trout Tagine with Ras El Hanout and Corn Broth
Note: Tagine is a type of dish found in the North African cuisines of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, which is named after the special pot in which it is cooked. They are slow-cooked stews braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. If you don’t have a tagine pot, this recipe could also be prepared in a covered baking dish. This is one of the winning recipes in the Chef Challenge from Sameh Wadi of Saffron restaurant. The recipe calls for a Moroccan spice blend called ras el hanout, which varies considerably depending on who makes it. Wadi uses his own blend of 29 spices that he sells at Saffron and online at saffronMPLS.com/spicetrail.html. Other blends can be used and would be available at Middle Eastern stores, as well as at Kitchen Window (3001 Hennepin Av., Minneapolis, 612-824-4417). The blend typically includes cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ground chili peppers, coriander, cumin, nutmeg and turmeric. If not using Wadi’s spice mix, adjust the amount to your taste.
• 2 c. corn stock (see directions below)
• 3 ( 5-oz.) pieces rainbow trout or similar fish
• 2 tbsp. ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend, see Note), divided
• 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
• 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
• 1 large onion, sliced thin
• 3 c. fresh corn kernels
• 6 baby zucchini, halved
• 12 baby patty-pan squash, whole
• 1 c. yellow wax beans, blanched and cut into 1-in. pieces
• Salt to taste
• 1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
• 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
To make 2 cups corn stock: Simmer several corn cobs (from the fresh kernels you will use in this dish) with water, onions, garlic and salt for 30 to 45 minutes on medium. Strain and season with a pinch of salt.
To prepare fish: Marinate fish with a pinch of ras el hanout spice and a drizzle of olive oil for 15 minutes and reserve in the refridgerator.
Heat remaining oil in tagine or large pot. Add garlic, onion and corn; cook on low heat. Add zucchini, patty-pan squash and beans. Then season with salt and remaining ras el hanout spice. Add corn stock and reduce liquid by a quarter, with pot uncovered.
Season the fish with salt and place in the tagine with the fresh cilantro. Cook for 3 minutes on high with the cover on. Add the lemon juice and serve.
Third course from Sameh was a frothy muskmelon soup, that will definitely find a place on my summer menus.
• 1 muskmelon, peeled and cut in chunks
• 1/4 c. ice
• 1/4 c. water
• Juice from about 1 1/2 limes
• Honey, to taste
• 1/2 pint (2 c.) raspberries
• Freshly cracked black pepper
• Few sprigs of mint
Combine muskmelon, ice, water, lime juice and a bit of honey (amount will depend on how sweet the melon is) in blender. Purée on high; add more water for desired consistency, then taste (adjusting honey, if needed) and strain.
To serve, place soup in bowls and garnish with raspberries, a sprinkling of freshly cracked black pepper and mint leaves. Serve cold.