Since 1974 Meals on Wheels has been providing nutritious meals to the home bound elderly and persons with disabilities in Wake County in an effort to improve health, reduce isolation, and prevent unnecessary institutionalization, so when Mary Kate Keith, director of Meals on Wheels, asked me to participate in the very first Chef’s Challenge to benefit Meals on Wheels, I didn’t hesitate!
The 2010 Chef’s Challenge was held at the new showroom of Garner TV and Appliance in Plantation Point Plaza across from the Triangle Town Center. About 150 people were in attendance and the three beautiful, live kitchens were filled with fragrant aromas and chefs who really love food! The three chefs chosen were Chris Hylton, owner and Executive Chef of The Mint in downtown Raleigh, Chef James Boyle of the Duck and Dumpling and me, Elise Johnson, from NBC 17 Cooking with Elise. Competing against these two amazing chefs and restaurateurs with such talent and hearts for their community was an honor!
Mary Accardi of Collaborative Designs created an elegant and inviting environment for all of the guests.
The emcee for the event was the very funny Mark Roberts. A live auction was held and money was raised for this very worthy cause. The chefs worked their magic in the kitchen while interacting with the guests as they enjoyed hors d’œuvres and beverages. Some of the auction items were a flat screened television donated by the wonderful folks at Garner TV and Appliance, dinner at the Second Empire donated by the always generous Kim Reynolds, packages from my favorite place, the Von Kekel Aveda Salon and Spa, and much more! The chef’s dinners were auctioned off to the highest bidders. The chefs and judges enjoyed the meals with the auction winners.
The three judges were Jeff Hadley – Department Head, Hospitality Management/Culinary Arts/Baking and Pastry Arts Program at Wake Tech Community College http://www.waketech.edu/ and Ed Brantley and Heba Salama – 2008 winners of The Biggest Loser Competition http://www.edandheba.com/
I knew the competition was fierce, so I tried to create a menu that would be both beautifully appealing to the eye and packed with incredible flavors. I decided to create an Indian fest for the judges! Here was my menu:
Chicken Tikka Masala
This traditional Indian dish, popularized in England, consists of chunks of chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, gently simmered in an exotic, smoky, spiced tomato-cream sauce. Although Britain refers to Chicken Tikka Masala as it’s “true national dish,” it seems as though an Indian chef in Glasgow invented this amazing dish by improvising a sauce made from yogurt, cream and spices. I first fell in love with Indian food while visiting London. The complex smoky spices dance throughout your mouth!
Basmati Rice with Fruit and Nuts
Favored by emperors, praised by poets for hundreds of years, cooked basmati rice or “ the queen of fragrance,” can be uniquely identified by its remarkable aroma and flavor. A very-long grained rice is enhanced with my special blend of spices. Beautiful golden raisins and roasted cashews add a lovely flavor and texture. This is the perfect accompaniment to Chicken Tikka Masala and many other Indian dishes.
Raita, a Minty Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
The marriage of cucumber, yogurt, garlic and herbs creates a perfect cooling side dish to spicy meals and sauces.
A delicious leavened flat bread popular in India and other South Asian countries, Naan bread is baked in the oven and is brushed with ghee or clarified butter, garlic and herbs. Enjoy soaking up your sauce with this delicious homemade bread.
Never underestimate yourself and alwasy shoot for the stars!!! I would like to sincerely thank Andre Bruinton, Meredith Brookover, Justine Barron and David Parker for being the best sous chefs in the world! Love you guys!! You will make wonderful, wonderful chefs!