Blue Mountain Lake, New York
Last Thursday the Adirondack Museum staged a celebration of food cooked with smoke and fire. The event complemented the ongoing North Country food exhibit entitled Lets Eat – Adirondack Food Traditions - that the museum has been running all summer. Naturalist Jane Desotell gave two presentations. Edible Adirondack mushrooms was the focus of her first talk. Later in the afternoon she gave a power point presentation on edible wild vegetables of the Adirondacks. John Roe from the culinary program at Paul Smiths gave two presentations on smoking foods, and offered samples of the smoked hens he had prepared at the conclusion of each session. The highlight of the day, at least for me, was the campfire cook-off, which pitted area chefs in a juried competition. Five area restaurants were represented: barVino and Lorenzo's of North Creek, The Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid, The Cellar in Long Lake, and Paul Smith's College. Each team was asked to prepare a full meal, using only an outdoor wood fired grill. The competition started at 11 AM, and the meals were to be judged at exactly 1 PM.
In any culinary competition timing is most important, as all that counts is how the meal tastes to the judges. In this case, the teams tried to time their dishes to be finished at exactly 1 PM. That is hard enough to do under the best of circumstances, but to time a dish on an outdoor fire can be problematic, at best. You may get your wood fired to the optimum temperature, only to have a breeze kick up and change things dramatically. That's OK if you are cooking for your kids, but this was important. This was for North Country bragging rights. Or Not. That breeze is exactly what happened on Thursday, and I felt for the teams as they did their best to control the grill temperatures.
I was surprised to see what types of meals the teams had elected to prepare. I guess I was assuming that the theme would be standard campfire fare – a grilled trout or steak perhaps. Some of the choices were ambitious to say the least, especially given the cooking medium. Stephen Topper of Lorenzo's prepared a balsamic braised rabbit with porcini cream. Tom Morris of the Mirror Lake Inn prepared a Pan fried walleye cake with wilted beet tops, cabbage and chanterelle hash, and a potato gratin prepared in a dutch oven atop the campfire. Eric Hample of the Cellar in Long Lake grilled a rainbow trout with Maryanne potatoes and roasted corn on the cob. I thought this was the closest meal to a traditional campfire supper – at least any campfire that I have ever tended. Kevin McCarthy and Tom Pollock from Paul Smiths slow roasted a beef tenderloin from Kilcoyne Farms,with sides of roasted Tucker farm veggies and Adirondack Pit-Po-Taters. The chef's assured the crowd that the 93% of the meal was from inside the blue line, not counting the salt pepper, and olive oil. Luke Bowers and Kevin Gardner from barVino had the most ambitious offering - a grilled wild turkey breast, with carmelized onion vinaigrette, sweet corn and sage gnocchi, and squash and cherry tomatoes. The team also had the loudest cheering section, with what seemed like half of North Creek in the gallery to root for them. I was certainly cheering for them, as I have tried unsuccessfully to grill wild turkey, which can quickly turn to tough as shoe leather on a grill. They did a great job with it; the result was flavorful, tender, and juicy - quite an accomplishment under the circumstances.
While the judges tasted samples of everyone's meals, the crowd was entertained by a really wonderful folk group from the Mohawk Valley – Inter Mountain Trio (IM3). Their tight harmonies did magic for the traditional songs they covered. Most of their material were unique arrangements of classics from the likes of Gordon Lightfoot and Simon & Garfunkel but they also had a large repertoire of sailing songs from the Canadian Maritimes. We will definitely look for their concert venues in the future.
When the judges came back they announced the results – a tie between Steven Topper of Lorenzo's in North Creek, and Tom Morris of the Mirror Lake Inn. It was a fun filled day in Blue Mountain Lake, and one that we most certainly will look forward to next year.