Meg and I had the opportunity to be guest judges at Southern Art’s Culinary Clash on April 15. Southern Art partnered with the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Atlanta to host the competition where students submitted three-course menus for the opportunity to cook with Southern Art chef de cuisine Keoko Turner. Out of numerous entries, three students were named finalists and with help from their sous chefs and fellow Le Cordon Bleu students, had the opportunity to showcase their menus at Southern Art last week.
The foodie in me was OVER THE MOONPIE to be invited as a guest judge and we couldn’t wait to see (and taste!) what sort of twists the Le Cordon Bleu students would put on the traditional Southern dishes. We were told to judge the students’ menus on four categories: creativity/originality, taste/execution, presentation, and reflection of Southern Art.
We were lucky enough to enjoy a three-course meal by Atlanta student Priyanka Charaniya with sous chef Justin Beaulieu. Priyanka hails from India, so she’s a natural with Indian cuisine, and she told us she’s only been in the U.S. for the last eight years, where she’s spent most of her time cooking. She is getting ready to graduate from Le Cordon Bleu and has dreams of moving to NYC and opening her own restaurant. She is currently seeking an externship at some of the modern Indian bistros in Curry Hill – just a skip away from our old NYC hood (Murray Hill). [Side note: Bhatti was our go-to Indian joint in Curry Hill if you’re ever looking for a place. And it’s BYOB!]
Now onto the food… (Don’t judge my shadowy pics – the lighting was not working with my super fancy camera otherwise known as my iPhone.)
1st course: Appetizer of Catfish Fritters with Chipotle Remoulade
2nd Course: Entrée of Barbecued Beef Cheeks with Smoked Gouda Grits and Spinach
3rd Course: Dessert of Sweet Potato Mousse with Pecan Brittle
The appetizer was delightful – the catfish was fried to perfection and the remoulade had just enough kick to blow the dish out of the water for my taste buds. Priyanka, you must bottle that sauce up ASAP! The catfish was paired with a cake of coleslaw topped with fried basil – not Meg’s favorite, but I thought it was a good accompaniment to the fried and spice flavors on the plate.
The entrée was…well, let’s just say, the entrée needed some work. The beef cheeks were super marble-y – which I realize is probably not the right term, but you know what we mean – it just looked a little meh. And the beef was just way overdone, so it was very rough to chew. She was trying to do a spin on traditional southern BBQ, but the choice of meat just didn’t cut it – I would have gone with a short rib or something like that that would have held the rub/sauce better without sacrificing the quality of the meat. The spinach also fell short, as in, I could have made it at home, and just didn’t look very appetizing in a lump on the plate. We loved the sweep of sauce across the plate though – 10 points for presentation there!
Thankfully, we ended on a sweet note with the sweet potato mousse – it was just delightful! Not overly sweet, which can often be the case with restaurant desserts. Priyanka let us in on her little secret of adding cardamom to the mix, which really took the flavor of the dessert up a notch. I polished it off in a couple smooth bites. And the presentation – just gorgeous with the sweet potato crisp in a ball formation on top. You could find that sort of class-A presentation in any NYC restaurant. Kudos to Priyanka for nailing it!
And after dinner, we may have indulged in chocolate martinis as a night cap. It was a great night at Southern Art (as always) and we were so glad to be part of the competition!
As for prizes: All participating students received cash prizes for scholarships at their respective schools, and the winner of Southern Art’s Culinary Clash will compete in the InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts Ultimate Culinary Clash competition in San Francisco on May 15, with four other InterContinental Hotels’ winners from North America. One property, along with its executive chef and student chef, will be named winner of the overall competition. The winning student will receive scholarship money, and the winning student’s culinary school will receive a monetary donation from the InterContinental brand.
Good luck to our girl Priyanka as she heads off to San Fran for the final competition on May 15th – our bets are on you to take home the winning prize!