Invasive Species Cook-off 2014

Star Studded Cast Delivers Memorable Invasive Species Cook-off 2014

Chef Cody Utzman's Wild Boar Dish

Chef Cody Utzman’s wild boar dish

Sometimes the stars align, and an annual benefit like the Institute for Applied Ecology’s Invasive Species Cook-off 2014 held this past September at Zenith Vineyard united a star studded cast of chefs, including the internationally celebrated Chef Philippe Parola, with close to 250 guests who ventured by train and plane from Seattle, and drove from up and down Oregon. Together, they enjoyed quirky, delicious cuisine, and stimulating activities that raised support for the fight against invasive species.

“We’re bringing people to the table to discuss invasive species impacts, raise awareness, and stimulate action — and doing so in a fun atmosphere!” said Tom Kaye, Executive Director of IAE.

Fascinated crowd with blue parasols watches Cook-off Competition

Fascinated crowd with blue parasols watches Cook-off Competition

A fascinated crowd, donning blue parasols under the sun drenched autumn day, watched Chef Philippe, perform his magic. First he held up the hind legs of a nutria which was locally trapped and skinned. “Let’s call this a water rabbit,” Chef Philippe joked. While he was carving up what many scornfully call the ‘water rat’ because it causes erosion on the banks of waterways, Matt Bahm, IAE’s Director of Conservation Research, mysteriously appeared with a plate of deep fried nutria nuggets. Chef Philippe declared, “I have turned a beast into a feast!” Many munched the tasty bites with the general consensus that it was delectable!

Next, a giant Asian carp was hoisted up for the crowd to see as a young child joyfully served as testimony to its size. According to Chef Philippe, this fish is the most destructive invader, literally devouring the native food supply of plankton, as it takes over fresh water ecosystems. This carp – an infamous jumper which literally hurdled itself into Chef Philippe’s fishing boat on the Atchafalaya River, has been trademarked as ‘Silverfin’ by Chef Philipp as part of a campaign to control the species by turning what most consider a trash fish into a delicacy. After showing how to fillet the fish, carp croquettes were served fresh from the fryer with a crunchy delightful taste enjoyed by even the youngest guests.

Young guest testifies to size of giant Asian carp held by Chef Ryan Morgan, as Chef Philippe Parola enjoys the moment

Young guest’s big smile is testimony to the size of the Asian carp held by Chef Ryan Morgan, as Chef Philippe Parola enjoys the moment

As Chef Philippe moved from presenter to judge of the next act: the “Chopped” Cook-off Competition, he was joined by fellow judges Allison Jones of Portland Monthly and Matt Korfhage of Willamette Week. ‘Mystery baskets’ containing wild boar chops, dandelion and sorrel greens, and blackberries were paraded down the steps to the Cook-off competitors – Chef Cody Utzman, owner of Frankies in Albany, Chef Hamid Serdani, of Gathering Together Farm, Chef Ryan Morgan, Theory at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and Chef Dave Bodi, Willabys Catering.

The Cook-off countdown began as each chef opened his basket and started to compete for best presentation, taste and creativity. The judges tasted dishes like Chef Cody’s chop standing on luscious Italian polenta, Chef Ryan’s crusted wild boar chop with fennel and mustard seeds, Chef Dave’s two divine chops between slices of beets, and Chef Hamid’s pan seared wild boar with North African spices served over sorrel with dandelion crepe terrine. Chef Ryan and Chef Hamid were co-winners, but as one of the judges aptly stated, this competition featured the finest group of chefs ever experienced for such an event.

Guests enjoy wild invasive species dinner in Grand Hall at Zenith Vineyard

Guests enjoy wild invasive species dinner in Grand Hall at Zenith Vineyard

As the competition came to a close, the guests entered an elegantly set Grand Hall for the wild invasive species dinner. Having already tasted the scrumptious appetizers of Matt Bennett of Sybaris Bistro, including wild boar bratwurst with blackberry mustard, crayfish stuffed piquillo peppers, and wild sorrel smoked salmon puffs, they were eager to see what was in store. Joshua Green of Bon Appétit at Willamette University presented a dandelion salad with briar rose chevre, sliced hood river pears, Gorgonzola and blackberry champagne vinaigrette, herb brined and traeger smoked wild turkey breast, braised wild boar with bourbon blackberry glaze, and paprika and buttermilk battered frog legs with a guajillo adobo sauce. Silver platters of elegant desserts were served featuring double chocolate blackberry cream swirl tarts, fennel seed shortbread, and Himalayan blackberry preserves, all prepared by pastry specialists Amelia Lane of Portland and Anna Henricks, Sweetheart Bakery. Sky High Brewing’s Berry Invasive Blonde Ale and Zenith’s wines complemented the fare.

A live auction presented adventures in nature like sea kayaking, wild mushroom hunt and dinner, hot springs, sailing, and canoeing in the Cascades, while a silent auction offered exotic wines, craftsman photography classes, and a wine and dine night on the town. And the lucky winner of the Golden Raffle won a Smith Rock climbing and camping adventure.

A moving video highlighted women inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility talking about raising violets to restore habitat for the Oregon silverspot butterfly, an endangered species, and feed captively reared caterpillars at the Oregon Zoo.

Invasive Species Cookbook Now Available!

And if you are interested in trying your own hand at cooking invasive species into delicious dishes, check out our new cookbook, THEY’RE COOKED: Recipes to Combat Invasive Speciesavailable here.

A warm thank you for all those who contributed to making the Invasive Species Cook-off 2014 a memorable success…

Chef Philippe Parola, Chef Cody Utzman, Chef Dave Bodi, Chef Ryan Morgan, Chef Hamid Serdani, Chef Matt Bennett, Chef Joshua Green, Chef Amelia Lane, Chef Anna Henricks, Brewmaster Laurence Livingston, Allison Jones, Matthew Korfhage, Willamette Week, Oregon Quinces, Bon Appétit Management Company and Theory at OMSI, Bon Appétit at Willamette University, Oregon Invasive Species Council, The Grand Hotel in Salem, Barker-Uerlings Insurance, Deborah Clark, IAE Board Member, Laurie Halsey, IAE Board Member, Joan Seevers, IAE Board President, Nicky USA, Western Invasives Network, Catherine Fisher, Town & Country Realty, Lumos Wine Company, ECO Sleep Solutions, SP&B Reprographics, Dave Henderer, Rich Ash, GeoMobile Innovations, Sky High Brewing and Pub, The Nettles Band, Peoria Gardens, Michael Winder, Corrine M. Duncan, Melanie Gisler, Cipriano Mañón, Sarah Ferguson Mañón, Ameyalli I. Mañón-Ferguson, Guillermo Monrroy, Lorena Reynolds, The Reynolds Law Firm, PC, Epic Day Spa, Bob Hansen, IAE Board Member, Breitenbush Hot Springs, Carol Savonen, IAE Board Member, Columbia Gorge / Klickitat Canyon Winery, Pat n’ Pat Fundraising Auctions, Cary Stephens, IAE Board Member, Tualatin Riverkeepers, Eric Nepom, Wanderlust Tours, Heather Söderberg, Scovare Expeditions Inc, Del Alma Restaurant and Bar, Oregon Photo Safaris, JC Aguirre, Tremaine Arkley, IAE Board Member, and Gail Arkley, Shonnard’s Nursery, Heather Söderberg, Marine Discovery Tours, Lori Wisehart, Rebecca Gard, Adina Lepp, Becky Koepke-Hill, Jackie Shaw, IAE Board Member, Bonnie Gisler, Connor Mullen, Ben Axt, Guy Banner, Jenny Getty, Carolyn Menke, Stacy Moore, Peter Moore, Matt Bahm, Michelle Allen, Ashley Visconti, Rebecca Currin, Dr. Tom Kaye, IAE Executive Director, Heidi B. Lewis, Tamara Mullen

And many thanks to the press who covered our event:

How to Help Fight Invasive Species? Eat them. Bullfrog, anyone?
By Wency Leung, Toronto Globe and Mail, August, 2014

Trips to Check Off Your Adventure Bucket List
By Stephanie Pearson, Outside Magazine, June 2014Outside Magazine

Invasive Species Cook-off Adds New Dimension
By Anthony Rimel, Corvallis Gazette-Times

Diners Put a Bite on Invasive Species
I Never Got To Try the Nutria, Darn It
Henry Miller, Statesman Journal

‘If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em’ Say Diners Noshing on Invasive Species
By Tom Banse, Voice of America

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