2/03/2012

Missouri Organic Association Conference St. Louis

When I am around gardeners and foodies, (or gardening foodies) I always learn something new. This trip to the Missouri Organic Association Conference is no exception. I've learned about new foods and new techniques both. An example. Black garlic. Do you know it? I'd read about black garlic but didn't have a clue what it's like or why I would want some.
Black garlic is soft, sweet and mildly garlic.
Black garlic fermented and the process turns the garlic black as well as giving it a soft, jelly-like texture. It's mild flavored, quite different from roasted or fresh garlic. The conference hosted 2 chef competitions, and in each there were several ingredients. The chefs didn't know in advance what would be available and they had an hour to put together a plate for each of the 4 judges. In one of the 2 competitions, black garlic was a surprise ingredient to be used.
Josh Galliano, a chef from a St. Louis restaurant was the moderator of the chef challenge.
Local food experts judged each dish in both rounds of competition.
 The judges, seated, are 4 food writers and food critics. They tasted and rated each of the several presentations from the chefs. In both round 1 and round 2, the chefs were given a set of ingredients, chosen by Chef Galliano but not known to the chefs before the competition. Each chef and one helper had 60 minutes to turn the ingredients into an award-winning presentation.
Tilapia, sunchokes and black walnuts were the primary ingredients in round 1.

The first round had 3 ingredients, which were: tilapia, Missouri black walnuts and sunchokes. There were additional ingredients available, including fennel, spinach, onions, shallots, etc. but the primary 3 ingredients had to be used in the dish.
The tilapia was pan-seared. The black walnuts were part of the sunchoke hash with bacon.
One of the entries in the first round from one team was a sunchoke hash (you know this ingredient as Jerusalem artichoke, chefs call it sunchoke) of stir-fried chokes, onions, garlic, bacon and orange juice. The tilapia was pan-seared and accompanied by flash-fried spinach with a fennel sauce.

What an amazing chopper. Chefs get to use the coolest tools!
The second new thing I learned about was this amazing professional food chopper. It has a little bowl and a motorized handle with different attachments. Way better than a food processor because you can switch bowls. It took 2 seconds to pulverize the steamed sunchokes into a sauce.
Josh interviewed the chefs as they worked. A high school boy, also Josh, photographed.

Husband and wife team took first place with their well-presented dishes.
 This husband and wife chef team had the winning dish in the second round of competition. Not only was it (probably) tasty...not being one of the judges I had to guess, but it looked really good.
This was a beautiful presentation of walnut-encrusted tilapia.
Their walnut-encrusted, pan-seared tilapia was served in small portions over a white barbecue sauce made with the sunchokes and garnished with carrots and baby spinach leaves with an orange-fennel dressing.

This little smoker gave the pork loin just a hint of applewood smoke on the outside.
And the third thing I learned about was this single-plate smoker. I knew they existed but I had never seen one in action. You can see the chef is lighting something on the top of the smoker. It's a tiny barrel, like you would find on a pipe. This one contains about a teaspoon of applewood slivers. The air is "inhaled" into the pipe, which has a tube running (to the left) into a metal cover in the bowl. Under the cover was a pan-seared tenderloin. The idea is to give the meat a mild smoky flavor on the outside rather than a smoker that in throughout the meat.
The black garlic sauce brought all the flavors together and was delicious.
The result was this pork loin, mildly smoked on the outside, served over carmelized onions and I don't know what was on the right side of the plate. But the black sauce in the middle? That's black garlic sauce. I tasted the sauce as well as the loin and I can honestly say it was hard not to grab a big piece and run. I believe this team won the second round with this entry, as well.
Attendance at the conference wasn't as high as the organizers had hoped but it is an excellent conference, nonetheless. There were over 60 vendors in the trade show and 72 speakers. I gave my Edible Landscaping program (I call it, "Plow up the lawn and plant something useful") and I'm taking one of my tropical plants I brought from Florida over to Illinois to my friend Joe tomorrow.

Good night from St. Louis.

3 comments:

susan belsinger said...

thanks jim--i feel like i was there--very descriptive. i'll have to seek out some black garlic.

Gina said...

SOunds like a great conference and the food looks fabulous!

Jim Long said...

Unfortunately the conference wasn't well attended. The chef's cook-off had about 30 people for the first round and maybe a dozen attending the second. But the chefs still did an excellent job and it was fun attending and tasting, too.