Thursday night, Whole Foods Scottsdale looked like a mini set from a Food Network challenge as five regional WF chefs, including hometown favorite (with his own cheering section) Nathan Hirsch, calmly competed in Round Two of the market's Ultimate Food Fight. The competition pantry was stocked with fresh local produce, select wines, premium meats and specialty condiments the WF markets are known for.
The challenge: Create a unique holiday stuffing using a stuffing base (bread, mirepoix, seasoning, stock) from the prepared food department, the pantry, and three secret ingredients chosen by the judges. The fun for me, as one of the judges, began with a race around the store with fellow judges Pavle Milic (fnb) and Brady Breese (Urban Cookies and Cupcake Wars winner) to select the secret ingredients.
The secret ingredients and what the chefs created after the jump.
Oysters popped into my head as Pavle admitted Thanksgiving stuffing was not a tradition in his Eastern European-South American heritage. Brady and I provided a quick tutorial on regional variations, explaining the oysters. Calamari was our choice for the first ingredient, a twist on oysters and we headed from seafood to produce to find Hatch chiles and offer the chefs some heat. As there were no Hatch chiles (gone for the season), colorful watermelon radishes won in the produce aisle as Pavle and Brady created dishes in their heads. Brady's attention was on the cocoa nibs in the bulk bins, but we settled on dried cherries for our last pick.
The chefs, Barbara Wilder Pearlman (San Fernando Valley), Nathan Hirsch (Arizona), Dennis Horton (OC and San Diego), Rachel Safran (Las Vegas) and Derek Harrison (Los Angeles) had 45 minutes to prepare their dishes while they were peppered with questions. The audience of friends, family and WF fans snacked on samples from the prepared food department and cheered the chefs at work kitchen stadium style.
Chef Safran prepared a shaved brussels sprout and pecan salad to accompany her prickly pear poached calamari with a braised fennel stuffing.
Chef Hirsch's calamari was treated with a ground lamb stuffing, sautéed in fennel, onions and dried cherries and served on a bed of sweet potato risotto.
The winner of the challenge, Chef Horton, used the stuffing to create a croquette, accompanied by two holiday-inspired sauces topped with rings of calamari, brussels sprouts and smoked herbs.
Chef Wilder Pearlman stuck to her Midwest roots serving a traditional bread pudding dish with fennel, sausage and onion stuffing garnished with cranberry-cherry chutney.
Chef Harrison mixed calamari and sausage into his stuffing creating bacon wrapped roulade, which was stacked on hard cider sautéed beets and watermelon radishes, with fresh heirloom tomatoes and greens.
The chefs move on to three more cities to compete and inspire creative holiday dishes. At the end of the five rounds, the overall winner of the competition, based on accumulated points from each round, will be announced and their recipes published by WF. The competition was an invitation to stretch with unexpected ingredients and go wild with that package of stuffing.
I left stuffed.