Chef Jeremiah Wins Deering Battle of the Prune

Epicures of all ages made the long haul out to the Deering Estate Saturday night for Wine on Harvest Moon, the annual fundraising event benefiting The Deering Estate Foundation. They enjoyed food samplings, drank free-flowing wine, and watched Chef Jack Garabedian from Jefe's Original Fish Taco & Burger take on Chef Jeremiah from gastroPod.

The Battle of the Food Truck Chefs was similar to the Culinary Challenge that took place a few weeks ago in Coral Gables. These chefs were given a fully stocked pantry from Whole Foods to work with. Thankfully this time there was no tofu or "alternative meat." Instead, the chefs were encouraged to work with duck breasts, yellowfin tuna, pork tenderloin, and even bacon, along with various herbs, condiments, cheeses, and produce.

The rules allowed them each 30 minutes to create two plates. Both dishes had to pair well with a Deering Wine from Sonoma and incorporate a secret ingredient. This time, the magical mystery selection was... [drumroll please] prunes. Egads. Someone at Whole Foods really has a vendetta against my GI tract.

While charming the crowd with entertaining quips, Chef Jeremiah churned out a grilled pork tenderloin dish with prunes and umeboshi with crispy broccolini, which he paired with the Cabernet Sauvignon, and prunes stuffed with feta and wrapped with bacon on red leaf lettuce with an orange vinaigrette and raw radish. The latter was paired with a Zinfandel.

Chef Garabedian worked silently and steadily, creating a beautiful seared tuna dish with a red curry and coconut milk sauce, enhanced with compound butter and prune essence, along with poblano peppers and potatoes with ginger. He suggested this dish would work best with the Zinfandel. Garabedian's second entry was a garlic-stuffed prune wrapped in bacon with duck, wasabi-poached grapes and chopped shallots to go with the Cabernet.&

Yours truly served as one of the evening's judges. In my opinion, both chefs and their Johnson & Wales student assistants, James Jones and Yailyn Romero, did a great job of creating flavorful, creative, and enticing dishes under duress. Although Garabedian's dishes won out for presentation, Chef Jeremiah's in-your-face flavors got my vote in the end. The other judges, Veronica Litton from Crown Wine & Spirits and Joe Canaves from South Motors (the event's presenting sponsor) must've agreed because gastroPod's king was crowned champion.

Aside from the cooking competition, myriad tastings took place under the glow of a glorious full moon. For VIPs, the evening began in the Stone House with offerings from SAWA, Kaliapy's, Bizcaya, and Hess Wines, among others. General admission guests wandered around the Richmond Cottage, where they were treated to sweets from Wendy's Chocolates & Gift Baskets and Sugar Shack. Others headed right to the front lawn for some Sierra Nevada, along with gastroPod's Old Dirt Dawg with Stupid Slaw and potato crisps and Jefe's taquitos carnitas.

Though decadent, the runaway hits of the evening weren't Bizcaya's Alba truffle and oxtail ravioli with pecorino sauce and extra virgin olive oil foam, nor Sawa's foie gras spring rolls with goat cheese, cranberry an tzatziki sauce. Nope, it was gastroPod's hot dog that had guests raving and coming back for seconds. Score two for Chef Jeremiah.

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Riki Altman