If you are—like me—a foodie who loves a good contest, then have I got the place for you! Every Wednesday through October 22, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., Pirch (the amazingly cool interactive bath, kitchen, and outdoor showroom located just across from The River in Rancho Mirage at 71-905 Highway 111) is hosting the Crater Lake Chef Challenge.
The concept is simple: Each week, two chefs from top notch Palm Springs Valley restaurants face off in the kitchen in real time, each creating one appetizer and one main course using Crater Lake’s array of spirits as an ingredient. The scrumptious results are judged by a three-person panel consisting of Chef Andrew Copley of Palm Springs’ Copley’s on Palm Canyon, Celebrity Chef Andre (who has worked with Janet Jackson and Kathy Ireland, and who has appeared on The Today Show, Anderson Cooper, and Access Hollywood, among other TV shows), and a third, revolving weekly guest judge. The prize: Cold hard cash, and the chance to be named the Valley’s Top Chef.
Sponsored by radio station Mix 100.5 (“The Desert’s Best Mix”), Crater Lake Vodka, Fantasy Springs Casino, Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours, Miracle Springs Resort, and Miele, the competition will see a total of eight chefs vying for the title. Restaurants represented are Rancho Mirage’s own bluEmber (the signature restaurant of Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa), Roy’s, and The Steakhouse at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, as well as Capri Miracle Springs, Bistro at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, Renaissance Palm Springs, Essence at Two Bunch Palms, and Bernie’s Hideaway.
I was there for the kickoff evening—did you really think I wouldn’t be?—and saw firsthand how exciting it is to watch two masters battling it out over hot stoves and under the pressure of the ticking clock. First up in the gastronomical duel were Chef Tyrone Love of Capri (who made Crater Lake Drunken Shrimp as his appetizer, and Elk Wellington as his main course) and bluEmber Chef de Cuisine Brandon Testi (who made Crater Lake Ginger Vodka Glazed Beets as his first course and Crater Lake Rye Whiskey Marinated Grilled Ribeye as his main).
After the plates were presented and polished off, the votes were tallied. bluEmber’s Brandon emerged the victor in a close, close fight to the finish. His appetizer consisted of a Crater Lake ginger vodka soy bean purée, a black pepper tuille (a thin, crisp wafer), pea tendrils, watermelon radish, a Crater Lake ginger vodka goat cheese whip, and a candied champagne vinaigrette. The judges commended him specifically for using the entire beet in the presentation.
But it was Testi’s main course that really set tongues wagging—and mouths watering. His perfectly grilled ribeye was served on a round plate fashioned out of an immaculate tree stump slice. To get to it, judges had to lift a glass dome into which had been infused white smoke using a special apparatus known as a smoking gun. The dish was made complete with Crater Lake rye-smoked bacon barlotto, black trumpet mushrooms, fried kale pops, a Crater Lake rye-smoked onion demi-glace, and forest flowers. The entire effect was woodsy—and winning!
Congratulations to Chef Brandon. He’ll be back in Week 5 to take on another semi-finalist, and I’ll be back in Week 2 to see what else is cooking in this delectable culinary competition. Won’t you join me? I’ll be the one salivating like a starved Pavlovian puppy.