Traditional tastes become art in hands of N.O. event chefs

Louisiana chefs turn traditional bread and banana puddings into an art form.

That was certainly apparent at the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience’s Grand Tasting on Saturday. People lined up at the Restaurant August booth at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to taste pastry chef Kelly Fields’ award-winning dessert.

Named the Best of Show Sweet, her Banana Pudding, Peanut Butter, Marshmallow & “Nilla Wafer” Cream dish offered an upscale mix of childhood favorites.

Also attracting plenty of attention from guests was Restaurant R’evolution pastry chef Erin Swanson’s White Chocolate Bread Pudding Crème Brûlée. It was the gold-medal winner in the desserts category.

Swanson said the 1,200 servings she brought to the event were almost gone by the time the three-hour event ended.

Over at the Commander’s Palace booth, Executive Chef Tory McPhail stayed busy, greeting fans while quickly plating his Best of Show Savory dish, Jamaican Jerk Pork, Island Paella With Pickled Fruit and Agua Fresca.

The spicy dish featured a black bean and yellow rice paella topped with shredded jerk pork, pickled mango and a pork vinaigrette and garnished with fresh cilantro.

The dish was served with Aqua Fresca, a fresh fruit drink. Such drinks are common in Mexico and Central America.

May has been a good month for McPhail. He bested three other New Orleans chefs and a Miami Beach, Fla., chef to win the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South award at the foundation’s May 6 awards ceremony in New York City. The Beard Awards are often called the highest honor for those working in the food and beverage industry in North America.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez, executive chef at SoBou in New Orleans’ French Quarter, high-fived everyone who came by to congratulate him on his gold medal in the seafood category for his Shrimp & Tasso Pinchos With Pineapple Ceviche.

Other medal winners include:

Gold medal in the meat and poultry category went to Executive Chef Eric Dadimot, Hyatt New Orleans, for Caille Egg Meurette, Cured Smoked Pork Belly, Country Bread. Silver winner chef Michael Gottieb, of The Rib Room, for Prime Rib Debris and Foie Gras-stuffed Crispy Chicken Skin. And bronze to chef Eric Labouchere, of Martinique Bistro, for Seared Lamb Loin.

Dadimot also was the silver medal winner in the desserts category for his Chicory Banana and Nutella Stuffed King Cake. Takeoffs on the English trifle and a Louisiana favorite, doberge cake, tied for bronze in the desserts category. Chef-owner Matt Murphy of The Irish House, New Orleans, prepared his Guinness Chocolate Trifle by layering a Guinness-flavored chocolate cake with a Bailey’s butter cream and topping with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. The other bronze winner was the Praline Doberge Cake With Brandied Cherries by pastry chef Yves Favier of Marriott 5 Fifty 5, New Orleans.

In the seafood category, silver went to chef Gus Martin, of Muriel’s, New Orleans, for Pecan-Crusted Crawfish Cheesecake. Bronze was awarded to chef Steven Marsella, of Heritage Grill, Metairie, for Sumac Seared Ahi Tuna and to chef Matt Regan, of Lüke, New Orleans, for Crawfish Boudin & Cracklin’s With Bourride-style Sauce.

In the Lagniappe category, chef David Bockstruck, of Martin Wine Cellar, won gold for Duck and Wild Mushroom Tamale; chef Octavia Yeaza, of Cibugnu, won silver for Corn Mousse Ravioli With Roasted Garlic Double Cream and Warm Blueberries; and chef Alon Shaya, of Domenica, took bronze with Bellwether Farms Ricotta With Date and Pecan Pesto and Housemade Ciabatta.