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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, November 29

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Event Mon Dec 15 2008

Port: It's Not Just for Dessert Anymore

What could be cooler than being in culinary school and winning a trip to the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal because of your talents? Next year two Kendall College culinary students will do just that, having won the first Cockburn's Culinary Competition, which put students to the test of pairing entrees with Cockburn's Special Reserve Port.

Last Wednesday, Kendall hosted the final round of this competition, where three teams of two vied for this prize. Fellow GB-staffer Lori Barrett and I attended this event, where we got to sample Cockburn's ports and taste all three finalists' dishes.

If you're not familiar with port, it is a pretty heavy, sweet wine. It's something you savor, traditionally as an after-dinner drink and it's often paired with cheese or chocolate. Port can only be called port if it's made in Portugal, where the ground can be tough to work, the weather's not that great, and it seems to be a struggle to get grapes to grow (sometimes farmers need to use dynamite to help clear away stone in order to get to the soil). The result is a small berry that's highly concentrated that can be turned into port. Cockburn's Special Reserve , which was used in the competition, is a blended port, meaning that wine from different harvests is combined to create a beverage that's consistent in flavor from year to year.

Cockburn's (pronounced Coh-burn's) decided to hold this competition in an attempt to reeducate consumers about port wine. Yes, port has that "after-dinner drink" stigma, but Cockburn's believes it can hold its own with an entrée, so they decided to host this competition to challenge student chefs to create recipes to prove this point. Miguel Côrte Real, Cockburn's Commercial and Viticultural Director, said, "Port is much more than a dessert wine. Trying to prove that is more easy to do in the US than the UK because the people in the UK think they know everything about port. People in the US are more open."

The competition started a few weeks ago, when 36 students paired up to create 18 teams. These teams participated in a "mystery basket" contest, where they received a basket of ingredients and had to quickly create a meal from them. The field was narrowed down to three teams, who had a couple of weeks to assemble a meal for an esteemed panel of judges: Miguel Côrte Real, Kendall Dean Christopher Koetke, Chef Shawn McClain, Signature Room Wine Director Angela Roman, and "Top Chef" winner Stephanie Izard. Once the judges tasted all three entries, the students prepared tasting portions for the crowd of foodies who assembled to watch the proceedings.

First up were Amy Dannenberger and Aaron Hass who chose to pair the heavy wine with a lighter meat. They created a pan-seared halibut with creamy polenta, foraged mushrooms and a Cockburn's reduction garnished with bulls blood and microgreens; and broiled pork cheek with pumpkin ravioli and a Cockburn's reduction garnished with an apple and pumpkin seed salad. Hass said he and Dannenberger tried to create an eclectic menu that looked really nice, had great flavor, and could be made at home.

The second team was Kristin Moore and Taleia Monty, who created "A Sustainable, Seasonal Market Menu" featuring cocoa and sumac lamb loin with market kale; tongue-of-fire beans; rutabaga puree; and an heirloom popcorn and mache salad. Moore said they chose a locally sourced menu. "We both believe in reducing the carbon footprint and supporting local small farms. We went to the Green City Market and talked with the growers [about what would be in season]." About their main dish she said, "The cocoa powder and sumac coating is a new take. Chocolate is usually paired with port. We took it to a new place and hopefully a great place."

The final team was Tracey Torres and Jeremy Fisher, who came up with a pork-based menu. They made a crisp braised pork belly with an onion and quince confit; migas, a traditional Portuguese dish made from sourdough, to which Torres and Fisher added pomegranate and linguisa; salad made of parsley, chive, frisee, and a Cockburn's vinaigrette; and black beluga lentils. Said Fisher of their menu, "It's been a lot of work. I've learned about myself and a lot about pork." He and Torres spent a couple of weeks creating their menu. "It was a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it just worked. We played around and had a lot of fun."

The judges looked at five criteria when evaluating the dishes: The creativity of the dish, it's appearance, the taste, how it paired with the port, and a flair for how the students decorated their tasting stations and interacted with the audience. They deemed Torres and Fisher's pork bonanza the winner. Dean Koetke said theirs was "one of those dishes when you taste it, and it's all just right. Balanced, contrasting. There was no part of it that wasn't good. [I knew] the moment I tasted it."

In his closing statement Côrte Real said it was "a privilege to collaborate" with Kendall. "The first rule of matching [food with wine] is, forget the rule. We tried to prove that good port is not only for cheese, Christmas, and old gentlemen. Good port can be a good combination with many different foods."

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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