Dazzling dishes delight diners at Grand Tasting

Louisiana’s chefs know how to use seafood, foie gras and mushrooms in imaginative ways. Their creativity was on display Saturday at the 22nd annual New Orleans Wine & Food Experience’s Grand Tasting, the final event of the four-day festival.

People lined up at the Commander’s Palace booth at the New Orleans Convention Center to taste Executive Chef Tory McPhail’s Best of Show Sweet, Foie Gras S’more. His upscale version of a childhood favorite featured a foie gras ganache, foie gras fluff and graham cracker pecan biscotti.

McPhail won Best of Show Savory last year, but that honor this year went to chefs Torre and David Solazzo of Del Porto Ristorante in Covington for their Crispy Pork Belly, Gulf Shrimp, Heirloom Tomato, Chili-Mint-Orange Vinaigrette, Fried Basil & Garlic Chips.

Also attracting attention from guests was the L’Auberge Casino and Hotel-Baton Rouge booth which was handing out samples of chef Jared Rising’s “A Taste of the River” Crawfish Spaetzle With Oyster Liquor Poached Gulf Fish and Gulf Shrimp Butter. It was the gold-medal winner in the seafood category.

Chef Scott Varnedoe of Restaurant IPO in Baton Rouge won a gold medal in the Soups & Stews category for his Sea Scallop & Wild Mushroom Bisque With Edible Garden. He also garnered a silver medal in the Lagniappe category for his Housemade Papardelle With Truffle Foie Gras Cream & Candied Tomato dish.

Another multiple winner was chef Eric Damidot of 8 Block Kitchen at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans who tied for a gold medal in the Meat & Poultry category with his dish Braised Chappapeela Pork Cheek With Violette Mousseline Potato, Pumpernickel Crouton. He also earned bronze medals in Desserts for Chocolate Bread Pudding Pain Perdu With Greek Yogurt Chiboust and in Soups & Stews for his Wild Teal Duck Gumbo With Brown Rice & Po-Boy Crystal Croutons.

Over at the Bourbon House booth, pastry chef Sara Toth was busy plating her gold-medal dessert, Chocolate Pecan Crunch.

She said the more than 700 servings she brought to the event were gone at least 30 minutes before the three-hour event ended.

Restaurant R’evolution pastry chef Erin Swanson had fans returning for seconds of her silver-medal dessert, Macadamia Nut Pineapple Up-Side Down Cake.

She was the gold-medal winner in last year’s desserts category.

Other medal winners were:

Meat & Poultry category — Chef Chris Montero, café b, Metairie, gold medal for his Steak and Eggs dish that featured truffled quail eggs and carpaccio; chef Paul Robert, Besh Steak, New Orleans, silver, for Grilled Hanger Steak With Puffed Barley and Beet Chips; and chef Alon Shaya, Domenica, New Orleans, bronze, for Lamb Bolognese.

Lagniappe — Chef Chip Flanagan, Ralph’s on the Park, New Orleans, gold medal for Yaka Mein; and chef Brandon Muetzel, Palace Café, bronze, for Banana Bread With Pecan Butter and Foie Gras Mousse.

Soups & Stews — Chef Michael Sichel, Galatoire’s, New Orleans, silver, Lobster Bisque With Truffle Creme and Roe; chef Tim Ormonde, Marriott 5 Fifty 5, also silver, Sweet Corn Bisque With Main Lobster; and Nick Gile, The Bombay Club, bronze, Crawfish Bisque With Tasso Dumpling and Grilled Corn Salad.

Seafood — Guy Reinbolt, Broussard’s, New Orleans, silver for George Banks Scallops With Potato Galette and Spinach Beurre Blanc; Austin Kirzner, Redfish Grill, also silver, for LA Crawfish Cakes BLT; and Lindsay Mason, Dick & Jenny’s, New Orleans, bronze, for Bourbon and Brown Sugar Glazed Salmon.