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s ’ t l a S Great Harvest Meal Challenge Five local chefs go plate-to-plate in Wilmington’s own version of the hit show Chopped By Jason Frye · Photographs by Mark Steelman

F

ood porn. It’s a term, and a hashtag, that’s become ubiquitous. Growing up, the only time I saw food on TV was when Mr. Food (“Ooh, it’s sooo good,” he’d say, signing off) showed up on the midday news, or when I graduated from Saturday morning cartoons to Saturday morning cooking shows on PBS. Jacques Pépin, Julia Child and Martin Yan appeared on the screen to show me how to cook some exotic meal the likes of which a boy born and raised in the hollers of West Virginia had never dreamed. Today, there are a half-dozen networks devoted to cooking, and after watching two iterations of Iron Chef — a show which I contend was best in the original Japanese version — every episode of Good Eats and Top Chef, at least one season each of shows devoted to finding the next Food Truck/Food Network Star or Bar/Restaurant Rescue or a Kitchen Nightmare or undiscovered barbecue joint, I thought the market was saturated on food porn for the masses. Then came Chopped. It’s an innovative format: Four chefs are challenged in three rounds to come up with dishes using a basket of mystery ingredients; dishes are judged by a panel of “celebrity” (read: They’ve been on some Food Network show or another) chefs. How would Wilmington’s chefs fare under such conditions? Would they be up to the challenge? I mean, on Chopped, a basket might contain green olives, fontina cheese, Cap’n Crunch, octopus and pickled beets, but that’s ridiculous. In talking with the Salt staff, we decided to issue a similar-to-Chopped challenge to local chefs. We asked five chefs to create a dish or dishes using five prescribed ingredients. We called it the Great Harvest Meal Challenge — or “5 x 5” for short. We asked Keith Rhodes of Catch, Kirsten Mitchell of Vittles food truck, Mark Shibles of 1900 Restaurant & Louge, Sam Cahoon of Ceviche’s, and Ricky Rhoden of Boca Bay to create a little something for us. We gave them five ingredients, and none too wild: Swiss chard, flounder, Nature’s Way goat cheese, green apples, and Bojenmi tea (a Chinese herbal tea that none of our chefs were familiar with). “All of the ingredients are gravy except that tea,” said Rhoden. “I think I’m going all Asian — maybe dumplings — so that tea will hopefully work well.” Rhoden said he’d be experimenting with the tea — running it through a coffee grinder, smoking another ingredient with it or maybe using it to crust something — to see how it best fit his ideas. For Cahoon, a recent Great Chef of the Cape Fear, the challenge was exciting. “Wow. I’m looking forward to this. You look at these ingredients and you see a dish right away, but you don’t want to make an expected dish, but you don’t want to go too crazy, either. Then there’s that tea. Man, I have so many ideas, it’s going to be hard to edit myself.” The other chefs met the challenge with equal enthusiasm, but Keith Rhodes, when I handed him the tins of tea, smiled, possibly recalling his stint on Top Chef, opened the tin and inhaled. He closed his eyes and inhaled again. He shook the tin and inhaled a third time. He smiled. “Yeah,” he said, “I got some thoughts coming through. You just wait.” 44

Salt • November 2015

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

November Salt 2015  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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