Harvest Fair food awards

The roasted tri-color baby beets with truffled goat cheese salad by Brasserie Restaurant executive chef Richard Whipple won Best Use of Olive Oil at the Harvest Fair professional food competition this year.

Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat
Published: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 2:06 a.m.

Executive chef Richard Whipple of Brasserie Restaurant in Santa Rosa lives by a simple motto: “You give me fire, I can cook.”

At the 2011 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Professional Food Competition, Whipple proved his mettle. After entering 10 dishes, he took home eight double-gold medals, five special awards and the prestigious Best of Show Appetizer.

“This year, we made a concerted effort,” said Whipple, who has been at the helm of the Santa Rosa restaurant for four years. “I always push myself a little bit.”

The annual food competition gives local restaurant chefs, caterers, bakers and other artisan producers the rare opportunity to compete in everything from dairy and bread to appetizers and desserts. The winners are announced well in advance of the start of the fair.

“Sonoma County has such a vast and diverse amount of food,” said Sheila Quince, Harvest Fair exhibit coordinator. “I'm not aware of any other county that celebrates their food and heritage like we do.”

Over the past 30 years, the fair's food competition has grown and evolved under the eye of Harvest Fair Food Judging Coordinator Anne Vercelli, who brings in professional chefs from all over to serve as judges.

“The entries were strong this year,” Vercelli said. “We had expensive meat products like duck breast, beef tenderloin and lamb loin ... and our dairy was up 50 percent.”

As usual, entries in this year's competition reflected trends in the food world at large. All kinds of salumi and head-to-tail meats, mushrooms and vegetables, artisan cheeses and dry rubs, gluten-free pastries and comfort foods were represented.

“In desserts, we had a lot of warm, chocolate desserts, and flavored cheesecakes,” Vercelli said. “In the cookies, there were lots of biscotti and brownies, but the French macaroons really made a statement.”

During the food competition, held in late August and early September, panels of judges tasted their way through the eight categories, awarding medals based on each dish's merits. “Double golds” are doled out when all three judges unanimously award a gold medal.

“It's another notch,” Quince said. “We want to recognize that gold quality.”

Best of Show honors are awarded in each category. The Sweepstakes Awards are only awarded in the appetizers and desserts categories, based on overall points earned.

“Sweepstakes shows consistency of quality across the board,” Quince said. “Best of Show means that one dish won.”

Whipple, who trained at Mustards Grill in Napa and Domaine Chandon in Yountville, entered two soups, two desserts and six appetizers/small plates.

“In the restaurant, we do a lot of smaller plates,” he said. “There are a lot of choices.”

Whipple blends French techniques with Wine Country cuisine simplicity.

“Less is more,” he said. “I like to let the product shine.”

For the Harvest Fair competition, Whipple sourced pork belly from Niman Ranch for a Maple Syrup and Apple Cider Pork Belly, a dish that won a double gold, plus Best Use of Pork and Best of Show Appetizer.

A big lover of sparkling wine, he also won a double gold and Best Use of Sonoma County Wine for his Chilled Crane Melon Soup.

“I used Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs with melons and mint,” he said. “It's a really refreshing soup.”

His Roasted Tri-Color Baby Beets with Truffled Goat Cheese — a blend of golden, red and chiogga beets — won a double gold and Best Use of Olive Oil.

Using a mix of Gourmet Mushrooms from Sebastopol, Whipple crafted Mushroom Tarts with Leeks and Blue Cheese, taking home a double gold and Best Use of Sonoma County vegetables.

His Swedish Cream Cannolis, made with Clover-Stornetta cream, won a double gold and Best Use of Local Products in the dessert category.

Whipple's award-winning dishes will be rotated onto the menu at the Brasserie at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel during the harvest season.

All of the food competition winners will showcase their dishes alongside award-winning Sonoma County wines at the Grand Tasting event from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday night at Grace Pavilion. Here are the other major awards:

Sweepstakes Appetizer: Oliver's Market

Best of Show Dessert: Double Layer Chocolate Torte from the Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club

Sweepstakes Dessert: Oliver's Market

Best of Show Decorated Cake: Blackberry Dream Wedding Cake from Oliver's Market

Best of Show Cake/Pastry: Chocolate Cake with Whisky Ganache and Whisky Buttercream from Oliver's Market

Best of Show French Bread: Sour Loaf from Franco American Bakery of Santa Rosa

Best of Show Specialty Bread: Seeded Sour Batard from Costeaux French Bakery of Healdsburg

Best of Show Dairy: 14-month Montasio from Valley Ford Cheese Co.

Best of Show Delicatessen: “Fork in the Road” Pastrami Sandwich from Korbel Delicatessen in Guerneville

Best Charcuterie: Luganega Sausage from Yanni's Sausage Grill of Penngrove

Best of Show Vinegar: Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Vinegar from Vi Vo Vinegar of Cloverdale

Best of Show Olive Oil:Sonoma Estate from B. R.Cohn Olive Oil Co. of Glen Ellen

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